Helping fill the needs of people in our local communities is one of the most important things we do. Nikki Biermann, Branch Manager at our West Branch M76 office spearheaded a volunteer event for the Mobile Food Pantry – Food Bank of Eastern Michigan at the First United Methodist Church in West Branch. Volunteers from the Bank along with local Boy Scouts and people from the congregation helped to unload the semi, sort the food, and then distribute it to over 260 individuals. Nikki uncovered the need through her involvement with Boy Scouts and put together a group of volunteers to help. Thank you Nikki, Alan, Shantel, Karen, Bennie, Steve, Alta, Kayla and Debbie for your commitment to the community of West Branch!
Like me, I hope you have fond memories of your grandparents. When invited to grandma’s house for lunch, I could always count on having something on the table she knew I liked. Grandparents are very special and we need to care for them as much as they care for us.
Unfortunately our grandparents, parents and older adults are the target of many types of scams received over the phone or via an email. These scams attempt to deceive with promises of goods, services, financial benefits or the need to send money to pay taxes, fees or to help someone they love. Their stories are contrived for one purpose and one purpose only, to get money. Below is just one example of these schemes.
Scammers place a call to an older person and when they answer, the scammer will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done a lick of background research.
Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect. At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.”
One of the best ways to protect our loved ones from these types of tactics is to talk with them about it. Building awareness is the first step. If they are willing, another step might be helping them with paying bills and balancing their bank accounts.
If you have been or know someone who has been a victim; don’t be afraid to talk about it with someone you trust. You are not alone, and there are people who can help. Doing nothing could only make it worse. Keep handy the phone numbers and resources you can turn to, including the local police, your bank (if money has been taken from your accounts), and Adult Protective Services at 1-855-444-3911. Call anytime day or night to report suspected abuse of vulnerable adults.
Bad guys using ransoms to extort money from innocent people isn’t just something you see in the movies anymore. Every day, people’s computers and everything on them are being held hostage unless a ransom is paid. This threat isn’t targeted at just businesses, it is very opportunistic, and infecting anyone it can.
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts the data on an infected computer. All of your precious family photos, videos and important documents, once encrypted, will no longer be accessible without the encryption key – which you can get only if you pay the amount the extortionist demands. This could be hundreds or thousands of dollars. What is your information worth to you?
Fortunately there is a better way to protect yourself than paying the ransom. By taking a few simple steps, you can avoid falling victim to this money making scheme:
- Back up your important files to a secondary location – Online Cloud Storage and USB attached hard drives are two great ways to back up what matters to you most in a second secure location. Don’t worry about program files as they can be restored from the source. Tax files, photos, videos, Word or Excel documents, are the types of files you want to ensure are backed up to a second location.
- DO NOT keep your backup storage attached to your computer – Some systems allow you the ability to automate the backup of files to a secondary location. Be careful, the ransomware is often sophisticated enough to encrypt your backup drives if it sees them and has access.
- Think twice before clicking on links or downloading attachments – Links or attachments within Phishing emails and social media sites like Facebook could be a trap that once sprung, sets into motion the chain of events caused by ransomware. Be very suspicious and ask yourself if it is really worth it to see whatever it is someone sent you.
If you become a victim of ransomware and you followed the steps above to back up your important files to a secure second location, don’t pay the ransom. Take your computer into a local reputable computer repair shop to have it restored and then copy your important files back onto your computer from your back up.
Law enforcement doesn’t recommend paying the ransom, although it’s up to you to determine whether the risks and costs of paying are worth the possibility of getting your files back. If you pay the ransom, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your files back. In fact, agreeing to pay signals to criminals that you haven’t backed up your files. Knowing this, they could increase the ransom price – and may delete or deny access to your files anyway. Even if you get your files back, they may be corrupted and you might be a target for other scams.
Check back for more information on the next Mercantile Bank Security Minute.
Article Written By: Kyle Kunnen | SVP, Information Security Officer | Mercantile Bank of Michigan
Mobile devices have become a significant part of our lives. It wasn’t that long ago, cell phones were a privilege afforded by only a few. Today, virtually everyone carries a mobile device. The allure of always being connected and immediate access to virtually anyone or everything is immense. This additional access while great is not free from risk. Because we use our mobile devices to shop, bank and conveniently access private information, it has become even more imperative to take added precaution. Whether it is a cell phone, tablet, or other mobile device, they typically have the ability to enable a screen locking feature. Enabling this feature not only requires a code for entry, it also encrypts the contents stored on the device. This is a great first step in securing your mobile device providing assurance your information remains protected if lost or stolen.
Below are some additional items to consider as you use your mobile device:
- Never jailbreak your mobile device – While it seems to add functionality to bypass restrictions set by the manufacturer, it also greatly diminishes the devices security.
- Only use device approved app stores – The Google Play or Marketplace and Apple’s App Store. Other places exist to download apps that appear to be the same as those found in the traditional app stores, but are often repackaged solutions with malicious intent.
- Remove no longer used applications – This will not only free up space, but reduce the number of possible applications that could someday become a vulnerability.
- Keep your device operating system and apps updated – Vendors often release patches to add new features or functionality. In addition, they often deliver important fixes to known security issues. For convenience, you can configure your device to apply these updates automatically when they become available.
Check back next week for more information on the next Mercantile Bank Security Minute.
Article Written By: John Schulte| SVP, Chief Information Officer| Mercantile Bank of Michigan
Just in time for the holidays, when finances and overspending can be stressful, the new Cash Flow module is now live in our online management tool, MercMoney®. The Cash Flow module offers an easy way to project out your income/expenses (and replace the old checkbook register).
MercMoney® is integrated into our online banking system and is a great way to empower you to take control of your finances and simplify your life. Budgeting, account aggregation and debt management are a just a few of the tools available, and best of all it’s free with any Mercantile checking or savings account.
It’s easy to set up MercMoney® and the Cash Flow module with a set-up wizard that identifies most re-occurring transactions, allows you to choose/edit future dated transactions and search history for other re-occurring items the wizard may miss. The wizard makes it easy (5-10 minutes) to replace a work intensive spreadsheet or manual process cash flow tracking process.
This module works both for people who want an easy, casual estimate of their cash flow and for those who keep detailed records. It can replace your current checkbook register, spreadsheet, Quicken or paper reconciliation process – with an automated and more efficient cash projection. The mobile version of this module is expected to be released in early 2017 so you can budget while on the go.
If you would like more information on MercMoney® and the new Cash Flow module visit https://www.mercbank.com/electronic/merc-money.asp or stop in to any of our branches.
Article Written By: Damaris Olaechea from NerdWallet | www.NerdWallet.com
Since many are unfamiliar with money management tools, how about an analogy to help elucidate this mysterious new tool? A weight scale is intimidating in its simplicity: you step on it, and in three figures you (perhaps regrettably) see the cumulative efforts of munching on midnight snacks and not exercising. No matter how painfully blunt a weight scale can be, we can all agree that it’s a helpful tool to guide you towards a healthier lifestyle.
Personal financial management tools, also called PFMs, are a lot like that intimidating weight scale. PFMs also display figures, but instead of measuring your weight they measure your financial health. Like the weight scale, PFMs figures are useful tools for helping you maintain a healthier lifestyle. However, unlike the weight scale, the PFM will aid your financial health. One beautiful difference between the two is that PFMs can be accessed anywhere you go via your mobile phone.
About 90% of mobile banking users access mobile banking to check account balances or recent transactions. With mobile PFMs, not only can you to track your balances and expenses, but you can also track any existing debt, anticipate upcoming bills, and manage your savings. They offer valuable insights to help anyone looking to prepare for retirement, build emergency savings or guide themselves out of a nasty fiscal hole.
If you’re looking to get a better grip on your spending habits, or are trying to follow a budget to the cent, you’d do well to use a mobile PFM. Below you’ll find a few examples of the benefits provided by PFMs.
1. At A Glance Reports
Most PFMs use simple graphs or lists to show you how much spending money you have available, how much you owe, and how much you’ve budgeted. This spares you the time and trouble of thumbing though line-by-line reports when you’re ready to make a purchase, but aren’t sure if you have the funds.
2. Budget Tools
Nearly all PFMs come with some kind of budgeting tool. After all, if there’s one tried and true method of careful financial planning, it’s closely monitoring your budget. You also have the added benefit of receiving alerts via text message or email when you’re approaching your budget limits.
3. Money-flow Monitoring
One of the better features of advanced PFMs is the ability to see where you spend most of your money. This can help the conscious consumer redistribute their funds if their spending isn’t aligning with their budget.
4. Portfolio Management
Have you made investments in the stock market? Do you hold accounts in more than one place? Would you like to know how your balances are contributing to your retirement? Well, some PFMs allow you to monitor your portfolios directly through the app. Some even allow you to examine individual investments and their performance.
While PFM tools can be extremely useful, they aren’t without certain concerns. Third party PFMs, for example, do require you give them your financial account information, including passwords.
If you’re afraid of using a third party for this reason, don’t fret. You’re actually in good company. According to a recent study by Forrester Research, 75 percent of consumers would prefer to use a PFM tool provided by their own financial institution. Fortunately, many banks have their own PFMs for customers to use. Try Mercantile Bank’s MercMoney tool to see how it can help you meet your financial goals.
PFMs are a promising tool to keep track of your financial accounts. However, like the weight scale, PFMs are only effective when they’re being used with a goal in mind. After all, no one ever lost weight just by stepping on a weight scale. Take the time to determine what your financial goals are, use a PFM to help keep you on track, and watch your financial health improve!