Friday, April 18, 2014

Prevent Identity Theft

SAINT PAUL, MN – The Minnesota Department of Commerce warns consumers who suspect their personal data may have been stolen to protect themselves against identity theft. Minnesotans who suspect their information may have fallen into the wrong hands need to be vigilant in monitoring their accounts and to act quickly to minimize damage to their credit reports and lessen financial losses.

If you suspect your bank account, card number, and personal information has been stolen, it is necessary to monitor your accounts for fraudulent activity. Additionally, check your credit report to ensure that no new unauthorized cards, lines of credit, or loans are taken out under your name.

What proactive steps can I take to protect personal information?

  • Before revealing personal information, find out how it will be used. Ask whether it will be shared with other companies. Many businesses will provide you with their "privacy policy."

  • Never give personal information over the phone or email. Most businesses that need bank account information, passwords or credit card numbers already have all the information they need and will not call or email a request for more information.

  • Check your credit report once a year. Credit reports show your credit history, including the number of loan requests and whether it's for credit cards, auto loans or mortgages. Make sure the report is accurate, and write a letter noting any mistakes.
    • There are three major credit bureaus that provide credit reports for a nominal fee, and there may be variations in each report: Equifax, 800-685-1111, Experian, 888-EXPERIAN, and Trans Union, 800-916-8800.

  • Pay attention to billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if bills don't arrive on time.

  • Take your receipts. If a store payment is made by credit card, some receipts list the full card number. Do not dispose of the receipt in a public place

  • Have new checks delivered to the bank.

  • Use passwords whenever possible. Avoid using passwords that contain easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date or the last four digits of your Social Security Number. Use a different password for each account. Do not store written passwords in purses or wallets where credit cards are kept.

  • Minimize the amount of personal information you carry. Do not store Social Security cards, passports or birth certificates in purses or wallets.

  • Write down credit card names and numbers and store them in a safe place. It's important to cancel your credit cards immediately if they've been stolen.

  • Guard the mailbox from theft.

  • Tear up junk mail. If you receive pre-screened credit card or mortgage offers in the mail, tear them up if you decide not to accept the offer. In a method called "dumpster diving," thieves scour trash bins for personal information.

  • Only use secure Internet sites for e-commerce. Look for a small yellow "padlock" in the toolbar and "https" in the web address.

  • It is important to simply know who you are dealing with. Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact


How to recover your identity:
After identity theft occurs, it is critical to document all conversations and correspondence with the companies and agencies helping to reestablish your personal information. Steps to repair your personal information may vary depending on what crime occurred, but in most cases there are a few basic steps to take:

  1. Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus. Tell them that you're an identity theft victim, and request a "fraud alert" on your file. Ask creditors to call you before approving any new accounts or changing your existing accounts.

  1. Ask the bureaus for a copy of your credit report, which is usually free if the report is inaccurate due to fraud. Check the area that lists "inquiries," and if loan or credit requests appear that you did not make, ask that those inquiries be removed. Order new reports in a few months to be sure that the information was removed, because it can negatively affect your credit score.

  1. Contact the credit card companies for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each creditor, and also notify them with a letter. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new accounts with new PINs and passwords.

  1. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Be sure to obtain a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit card company or others need proof of the crime. Even if the police can't find the identity thief, having a copy of the police report will be helpful when dealing with creditors.

5.    The Federal Trade Commission collects complaints about identity theft from consumers who have been victimized. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, the commission can help victims of identity theft by providing information to assist them in resolving the financial and other problems that can result from this crime. The FTC also refers victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for further action.

For more information, or if you've been a victim of identity theft and need to file a complaint, contact the FTC: by telephone, call the Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502; by mail, write to Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or online, go to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.

This month, the University of Minnesota Extension, Center for Family Development and the Minnesota Department of Commerce collaborated on a set of five guides to help Minnesotans start on the path to financial security.  The guide, How is your Credit?provides a wide variety of resources to help protect or repair credit. 

DNR adds stand-up paddleboarding to its ‘I Can!’ programs




One of the latest trends in paddle sports is coming to Minnesota state parks this summer. People can sign-up for one of the new stand-up paddleboarding programs offered as part of the “I Can!” series of outdoor skill-building opportunities for beginners.

“I Can Paddle! Stand-up Paddleboarding” programs ($10 per person, ages 8 and up) take place:

  • Saturday, June 21, Glacial Lakes State Park (in Starbuck, 140 miles northwest of the Twin Cities).
  • Saturday, July 5, Sibley State Park (near Willmar in central Minnesota). 
  • Saturday, Aug. 16, William O’Brien State Park (north of Stillwater).
Other programs in the beginner-level “I Can!” series include I Can Camp!, I Can Paddle!, I Can Climb!, I Can Fish! and Archery in the Parks. No experience is necessary for any of these programs. Instruction and all necessary equipment will be provided. Some programs require advance registration and a fee; others are free, although a vehicle permit is required ($5/one-day or $25/year-round) to enter Minnesota state parks and recreation areas. 
I Can Camp!
At an overnight “I Can Camp!” program, campers sleep in a tent and learn basic outdoor skills. Camping equipment (including tents, air mattresses and cook stoves) is provided. Participants bring their own food and bedding (sleeping bags or blankets and pillows).

One-night workshops ($40 for up to six people in a tent) are scheduled on most Saturdays in June, July and August. Eight two-night workshops ($60 for up to six people in a tent) are also available for families who want a more complete weekend camping experience. The first programs are Saturday, June 7, at Nerstrand Big Woods and Wild River state parks, both within an hour of the Twin Cities. Advance registration is required.

I Can Paddle!
Novice paddlers will explore some of Minnesota's lakes and rivers with guides during this summer’s “I Can Paddle!” programs. Advance registration is required. Choose from three types of paddling programs:

  • On the Lake programs – These two-hour programs ($10 per canoe, with each canoe accommodating up to three people), perfect for beginners of all ages, take place at various Minnesota state parks, starting Saturday, June 14, at Lake Louise State Park, east of Albert Lea near the Iowa border.
  • On the River programs – In addition to the same basic skills included in the “On the Lake” programs, these programs ($25 per canoe, with each canoe accommodating up to three people) will cover how to read a river and river safety. Programs take place on state water trails (river routes mapped and managed for paddling), starting Saturday, June 14, on the St. Croix River State Water Trail. Participants must be age 8 or older. 
  • Sea Kayaking programs – These two-hour programs ($35 per person) will introduce participants to sea kayaking on the Lake Superior State Water Trail. Sea kayaking is only offered Saturday, July 12, and Saturday, Aug. 2. 
I Can Climb!
The I Can Climb! programs, offered in partnership with Vertical Endeavors, Inc., provide opportunities to learn basic climbing skills. Youth and other beginners ascend real rocks at Minnesota’s state parks for rock climbing. Helmets, harnesses and other climbing and safety gear are provided. Advance registration is required. Two types of climbing experiences will be offered:

  • I Can Climb! – This 90-minute program ($5 per climber), designed for first-time climbers age 5 or older, will be offered at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, starting Saturday, June 7, and at Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota, starting Saturday, June 28. 
  • I Can Climb! On the North Shore – This 90-minute program ($5 per climber), for participants age 10 or older, takes place at Tettegouche State Park in Silver Bay, starting Saturday, June 14. Climbers are slowly lowered from the top of a cliff above Lake Superior and then climb back up. No experience is necessary.
Archery in the Parks
Trained archery instructors will provide an introduction to archery, along with assistance in shooting a bow in a safe, supervised and supportive setting at these free programs. Programs are scheduled statewide, starting May 3 at Maplewood State Park in Pelican Rapids. Participants must be age 8 or older. Advance registration is not required

I Can Fish!
First-time anglers and those who want a refresher can get hands-on instruction at these free fishing programs, starting Sunday, May 25, at Whitewater State Park and Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in southeastern Minnesota. Equipment and bait are provided, and no fishing license is necessary for Minnesota residents. Advance registration is not required.

Registration and more information
For more information, visit www.mndnr.gov/ican or contact the DNR Information Center at info.dnr@state.mn.us or 651-296-6157 or 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

To register for I Can Camp!, I Can Paddle! and I Can Climb!, visit www.mndnr.gov/reservations or call 866-857-2757 (8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, except holidays).

Funding for the “I Can!” program series is from the Parks and Trails Fund, created after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008. The Parks and Trails Fund receives 14.25 percent of the sales tax revenue and may only be spent to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

2014 Arbor Month Celebration encourages nature play


A decline in nature play has prompted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to put this year’s Arbor Month (May) focus on encouraging kids to climb trees and play with nature in their back yards and within the community.

The 2014 State Arbor Month Celebration will be
9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, May 17, at Oak Hill Park in St. Louis Park. The event will give families a chance to play with nature, while watching some of the best tree climbers in the state compete at the Minnesota Tree Climbing Championship.

According to the Children & Nature Network and the Commission on Education and Communication, 88 percent of children reported using a computer almost every day, while only 11 percent of children reported visiting a local park or natural area almost every day. In some cases, the use of electronic media has disconnected children and their parents from nature.

Nature play is easy, affordable and safe. Frequent, unstructured play in diverse natural settings promotes overall physical and emotional health, cognitive development, creativity, physical ability and coordination, the Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood reports. It also reduces stress and forms the foundation for responsible environmental behavior.

“Outdoor playtime can easily be doubled with a little planning and a commitment by parents to encourage their kids to climb trees, dig holes in dirt and sand, play in the leaves, plant a garden, build forts, run through tall grass and play with water,” said Jennifer Teegarden,
DNR forestry outreach specialist.

State Arbor Month Celebration – May 17
9 a.m. --- State Arbor Month ceremony with state dignitaries.
9:30 a.m. -- Ceremonial tree planting.
10 a.m. -- Musical performance by Kidtime with Rachel.
10 a.m.noon -- Nature play activities, exhibits and presentations.
8 a.m.–5 p.m. -- Minnesota State Tree Climbing Championships.

For more information, visit www.mndnr.gov/arbormonth. 

Wildfire Prevention Week raises awareness of outdoor fire hazards


Gov. Mark Dayton has declared April 20–26 as Wildfire Prevention Week in Minnesota to increase awareness of outdoor wildfire hazards.

Each spring wildland firefighters and rural fire department volunteers spend countless hours battling wildfires that could have been easily prevented.

In the past 18 months, wildfires burned 21 homes and three commercial buildings and threatened more than 500 other structures, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. These fires were caused by people misjudging the weather and danger of fires escaping their control.

“Due to the dead and dry grasses that can easily catch fire, spring is always a risky time for wildfires in
Minnesota,” said Larry Himanga, DNR wildfire prevention coordinator. “Right now the fire danger in southern and central Minnesota is high, which means fires can easily start and quickly spread. Therefore, burning permits are not being issued in most of these areas.”

A major cause of wildfires is burning yard waste. The
DNR recommends composting or mulching instead. If burning is necessary, landowners should check fire burning restrictions in their area, get a burning permit, be careful with their debris fires and remember small-piled debris can hold hot coals for several days to months for large ones.

The
DNR has developed new wildfire prevention Web pages (www.dnr.state.mn.us/wildfire/prevention/index.html) to help increase awareness of wildfire prevention and the dangers of wildfires.

Burning restrictions will continue to expand into northern
Minnesota as fire danger increases due to snow melt.

Visit www.mndnr.gov/forestry/fire/firerating_restrictions.html for current statewide fire danger information and burning restrictions.

“When you light a fire, you are responsible for keeping it under control and staying with it until it is out,” Himanga said. “If you think your fire is out, check again.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

BOLDEST MANKATO MARATHON STORY TO RECEIVE LIFE-TIME BIB


MANKATO, Minn. ― The Mankato Marathon, presented by Mayo Clinic Health System,  is looking for bold stories and is offering free race registrations for life for the boldest story. Participants of past Mankato Marathon races or the upcoming 2014 races can submit video stories detailing overcoming a hardship to run a race, an inspiring story of why they started running, or a touching story about why they are running or have ran a Mankato Marathon race.

Anyone who submits a story that meets the criteria of the contest (found at www.mankatomarathon.com) will be qualified for a chance to win a free race registration of their choice for the 2014 Mankato Marathon races, a Mankato Marathon merchandise item valued at up to $20 or a free 2014 Mankato Marathon Commemorative Print.

A Mankato Marathon merchandise item valued up to $20 will be awarded to any video with over 1,000 views. Top five finalists will receive a free race entry to a 2014 Mankato Marathon race of their choice and a 2014 Mankato Marathon Commemorative Print. The overall winner will receive all the prizes above in addition to a life-time bib which allows them to run any Mankato Marathon race for free for their entire lifetime.

Deadline to submit a video is August 29, 2014. The top five Boldest Stories will be chosen by committee and the winning video will be chosen from those top five videos through social media. The video with the most “likes” or “shares” will win.

The winning video will be announced at the 2014 Scheels and Under Armour Sport and Health Expo on Saturday, October 18. The top five videos will also be featured at the expo and in the post-race area of the Mankato Marathon on Sunday, October 19.

YouTube links of video submissions can be sent to Paige Schuette at pschuette@visitmankatomn.com.  For more information on the Bold Story Contest or the 2014 Mankato Marathon visit www.mankatomarathon.com.

About The 2014 Mankato Marathon:
On October 18-19 2014 Visit Mankato and Final Stretch will host the fifth annual Mankato Marathon. This accredited race is a qualifying event for the prestigious Boston Marathon and is projected to have a fifth year attendance of 5,000 runners. The event will continually grow to have significant economic impact in the community and already has incredible local sponsorship, with Mayo Clinic Health System leading a long list of area businesses. There are many ways to get involved as a business, runner, volunteer or spectator. For more information on the 2014 Mankato Marathon go to www.mankatomarathon.com or call 507.385.6660.
About Visit Mankato:
Visit Mankato, LLC, the local Convention & Visitors Bureau, is a Limited Liability Corporationof Greater Mankato Growth, Inc. Visit Mankato leads the development of the visitor economy in Mankato by actively promoting Mankato as a premier destination for conventions, tournaments and tourism. These activities bring a steady flow of visitors and business activity to Mankato that benefits local residents and future visitors. The work of Visit Mankato helps strengthen the hospitality industry which provides jobs, a diverse tax base and amenities for everyone to enjoy. www.visitmankatomn.com

Adopt a Highway volunteers save state $6 million annually


                                                                                                                                   
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Volunteers helping with the Adopt a Highway program pick up 826,000 pounds—more than 100 dump truck loads—of litter annually saving the state an estimated $6 million, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The Adopt a Highway program is staffed by more than 49,000 volunteers representing businesses, non-profits, families and individuals who are helping to clean up more than 11,000 miles of Minnesota’s highways. The program saw an increase of 12 volunteers groups and more than 120 volunteers in 2013.

“They volunteer because they want to keep Minnesota highways beautiful and because they take pride in what they do,” said Ernest Lloyd, Adopt a Highway program administrator. “Because of volunteers’ contributions, our crews can spend more time on highway improvement and safety projects.”

Even with these great efforts, MnDOT is looking for more volunteers to help with this public service campaign, Lloyd said. To become part of the program, the volunteer groups agree to:

·         Adopt a highway for a minimum of two years
·         Select a segment of highway approximately two miles in length (Note: only select sections of state highways are available for adoption due to safety concerns)
·         Pick up litter on both sides of the highway
·         Pick up litter as often as needed from spring through fall, usually two to three times

MnDOT provides a safety training video, trash bags for cleanup events and safety vests for each volunteer. The high-visibility color and reflective tape make litter crews more visible to passing motorists.

After the group completes its cleanup MnDOT crews pick up the filled bags and large, heavy or hazardous items from the roadside. State workers, not volunteers, are responsible for litter pickup along the interstate.  

Another Adopt a Highway option is “Pick A Highway,” which allows an individual, family, business or group the option of trying out the program with a one-time pickup of litter along an unadopted section of state highway. 

Those interested in participating in the program can visit www.mndot.gov/adopt/contacts.html for local contact information.