Tuesday, November 24, 2015

BBB’s Tips for Shopping Safely Online

Burnsville, MinnesotaNovember 24, 2015 –After Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, many shoppers go online to check out Cyber Monday specials. According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers expect to do almost half of their holiday shopping online this year. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Black Friday, has grown popular among consumers in recent years, as they look to take advantage of post-holiday sales some retailers offer. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) offers their top ten tips for people looking to shop online, be it on Cyber Monday – November 30 – or throughout the busy holiday season:

1. Protect your computer – Your computer should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.

2. Stick to trustworthy websites – Research the seller’s reputation and track record for customer satisfaction at bbb.org. Look for BBB’s seal and other widely-recognized “trust marks” on retailer websites. Always remember to click on the seals to confirm that they are valid and check out customer reviews online, including those offered by Better Business Bureau.

3. Protect your personal information – Take the time to read the privacy policy of websites you visit and understand what personal information is being collected and how it will be used. If you don’t see a privacy policy posted, be aware your information may be sold without your permission.

4. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true – Offers found on less-traveled websites and in unsolicited emails sometimes advertise suspiciously low prices. When visiting a website, look for misspellings and grammatical errors, as these are signs the site might be fraudulent. Trust your instincts and be leery of unsolicited emails, as they may contain viruses or malware. Don’t be afraid to pass up “great deals” that might wind up costing you dearly instead of saving you money.

5. Beware of phishing – Legitimate businesses do not send emails claiming problems with an order or a past transaction to lure the “buyer” into revealing financial information. If a consumer receives such an email, BBB recommends picking up the phone and calling the retailer you dealt with or your credit card provider to get to the bottom of the matter. Stay calm, don’t panic and always be protective of your personal and financial information.

6. Confirm your online purchase is secure – Shoppers should always look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the “lock” symbol before paying.

7. Pay with a credit card – It’s often best to use a credit card, because under federal law, the shopper can dispute the charge if he or she doesn’t receive the item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card or merchandise they receive is damaged.

8. Keep documentation of your order - After completing the online order process, there should be a final confirmation page or the shopper might receive confirmation by email. Save a copy of that as well as any emails for future reference and as a record of your purchase.

9. Check your credit card statements often – Don’t wait for paper statements; BBB recommends consumers check their credit card statements for suspicious activity by checking statements online regularly or by calling their credit card companies if fraud is suspected.

10. Know your rights – By law, a seller should ship your order within the time stated in its ads or over the phone. If the seller doesn’t promise a time, you can expect the item to be shipped within 30 days. If the seller is unable to ship within the promised time, they must notify you, provide a revised shipping date and offer you the chance to cancel for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

DNR to conduct a public hearing on Beaulieu Lake management

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will conduct a public hearing on a proposal to formally designate Beaulieu Lake in Mahnomen County for wildlife management.

The hearing will be held Tuesday, Dec. 8, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Bejou Community Center, 523 S. Main St. in Bejou.

Located 6 miles northeast of Bejou, Beaulieu Lake is a 283-acre shallow basin that has a history of excellent migratory waterfowl use. Currently, Beaulieu Lake is in a degraded condition due to a nonfunctioning outlet weir. The DNR plans to partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ducks Unlimited to install a variable crest water control structure that will allow for water level management.

Designating Beaulieu Lake as a wildlife lake would give the DNR authority to conduct periodic temporary drawdowns using the proposed water control structure, and restrict minnow trapping, an activity that can disturb waterfowl. Temporary drawdowns can improve wildlife habitat by promoting sediment consolidation and re-establishment of aquatic plants.

Those unable to attend the hearing, but wanting additional information, should contact DNR wildlife lake specialist Tammy Baden, 218-846-8386. Written comments on the proposal will be accepted until Jan. 7. Written comments may be mailed to the Detroit Lakes area DNR office, 14583 County Highway 19, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501.

For more information on wildlife lake designations, visit www.mndnr.gov/wildlife/shallowlakes/designation.html.

Friday, November 6, 2015

MnDOT’s 511 system adds real-time road condition cameras

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Motorists driving throughout the state this winter will benefit from the addition of cameras displaying real-time photos of road conditions from 92 locations to help them plan their travel. The photos are available on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s 511 traveler information website at www.511mn.org.

These camera locations are in addition to the more than 800 traffic cameras already displayed on MnDOT’s 511 system.

The Road Weather Information Stations or RWIS are located along state roads and interstates. The stations are used by MnDOT’s maintenance crews but now the public also can take advantage of the live rotating camera shots. Various weather data is also available with the photos.

“RWIS is perfect for Greater Minnesota, where camera images were lacking in the past,” said Kelly Braunig, 511 program manager. “Seeing is believing, so the photos will help motorists know what the road conditions are for where they are traveling.”

The RWIS are among several recent enhancements to the 511 system. Other updates are:

·         Metro traffic map - Uses Google Speed technology to show congestion levels caused by crashes, closures, construction and maintenance projects within the Twin Cities metro area. Users can zoom in to specific incidents or events. This feature can be viewed by clicking on the quick link “Metro Traffic Map” on the left side of the full-featured version of the 511 website.
·         Greater Minnesota traffic speeds – Uses Google Speed technology to show congestion levels along Minnesota highways. Users can zoom in and out to specific cities. Users can view this by turning on the “Traffic Speeds” layer from the dropdown list on the full-featured version of the 511 website.
·         Weather warnings – Show warnings imported from National Weather Service sites. The warnings are displayed as a shaded overlay on top of the full-featured version of the 511 website in the areas that are affected. These warnings reinforce the message about the road condition report. For example, if a blizzard warning is issued for St. Louis County, a user would see that county shaded along with a weather warning icon. The user might also see “completely covered” or “travel not advised” road conditions in that area. This feature is available year-round and also shows severe storm, flash flood, high wind and tornado warnings.
·         Traffic delays – Is a Google Speed feature that recognizes when there is a backup due to an existing traffic event on 511. The events are highlighted with an orange glow. Clicking on the glowing icon will show details about how long a delay is expected. This is available only on interstates statewide.
·         511 smartphone app – Shows a detour route as a blue line. Detours can also be seen on the 511 website. This feature is available statewide.
“These improvements will give users more quality information,” said Braunig. “The more information we can give the public, the better chance they have to make good decisions on their travel.”

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Highway 59 projectopen house set for Dec. 2

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — The public is invited to an open house in Mahnomen to learn more about an upcoming Highway 59 resurfacing project.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to resurface Highway 59 from near Callaway to Winger and add a center-left turn lane through Mahnomen. The project is planned for 2017, although it may be completed in 2016 if funding becomes available.

The open house is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at the White Earth Tribal and Community College, 2250 College Road, Mahnomen, Minn. A short presentation will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Representatives from MnDOT and project consultant WSB will provide an overview of the project, answer questions and take input about the proposed designs.

MnDOT staff will also be available to answer questions about a 2016 resurfacing project planned on Highway 200 between Mahnomen and Roy Lake.

For more information, contact Shiloh Wahl, MnDOT project manager, at Shiloh.wahl@state.mn.us or 218-846-3630.

To learn more about MnDOT and transportation funding, visit MnDOT’s Get Connected website at: www.dot.state.mn.us/getconnected/

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

DNR provides buffer mapping project details


The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is providing a timeline and other details about its production of maps for the state’s new law requiring vegetative buffers around bodies of water. The information is available at www.mndnr.gov/buffers.

“We understand people have questions about the buffer initiative,” said Dave Leuthe, DNR project manager. “This information explains the process the DNR will use for the mapping project, the timeline in which maps will be developed, and opportunities for local governments and the public to engage in the process.”

Gov. Mark Dayton’s landmark buffer initiative was signed into law earlier this year. The law will establish new perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along rivers, streams and ditches to help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment.

The DNR is responsible for producing maps of public waters and ditch systems that require buffers under the new law. Local governments will provide information on ditches, which the DNR will integrate with information on public waters to develop preliminary buffer maps. The DNR is scheduled to produce final maps by July 2016, using a four-phase approach:
  • Phase I - This fall, the DNR will use existing digital data to identify public waters that require a buffer (50-foot average width) and provide the information to local governments for review.
  • Phase II - Beginning this fall and continuing through winter, the DNR will coordinate with counties and watershed districts to transfer local information on ditches, within the benefited areas of public drainage systems, into digital data. This will be used by the DNR to help identify ditches that require a one-rod (16.5-foot) buffer.
  • Phase III – In late winter 2016, the DNR will use the combined public water and ditch system data to produce preliminary buffer maps. Local governments such as cities, townships and soil and water conservation districts, will review the maps, take input from landowners, and provide comments to the DNR.
  • Phase IV – In summer 2016, the DNR will deliver integrated buffer maps to the Board of Water and Soil Resources, local soil and water conservation districts, and other local governments. The Board of Water and Soil Resources is responsible for the implementation process.
There will be public engagement opportunities when the preliminary maps are available. The maps will help landowners identify whether they need to create a buffer and, if so, whether they need a 16.5-foot or 50-foot average buffer width.

Local soil and water conservation districts will work directly with landowners and help them use the maps to create the right size buffer, or help the landowner select an alternative water quality practice in lieu of a buffer.

Go to www.mndnr.gov/buffers to learn more about how the DNR is producing maps for the governor’s buffer initiative.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

BBB Says Watch For Tech Support Scheme

Burnsville, Minnesota – October 27, 2015 – Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) is once again noting an uptick in reports of the “Tech Support” scam. Generally, this scheme is perpetrated over the phone: homeowners or business owners receive calls from ‘technicians’ saying there’s a problem with their computer. But these supposed experts are only interested in collecting credit card information or gaining remote access to users’ computers. A newer wrinkle to this scheme involves pop-up messages telling people their computer has been infected by a virus and they need to call the number on their screen for assistance.

“These pop-up messages are often dramatic, using capital letters and exclamation points, in order to get people’s attention,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “We’re advising people not to panic and not to listen to whatever the message is saying.”

Based on complaints in BBB files, it appears some of these pop-ups direct people to contact companies which may provide some type of technical support. However, if these companies – as many customers allege – are the ones who make such warnings appear on users’ screens, via adware or malware or spyware, as a means of gaining new business, that’s a problem.

One such company that appears to employ this tactic – First Choice Tech Support, based in Boynton Beach, Florida – denied in a statement to BBB that they infect people’s computers with any malware, adware or spyware. Further, they claim their pop-up advertisements clearly state they are advertisements and can be closed by clicking on an x in the top right corner. However, a consumer who says they dealt with the company recently alleges they had no indication the pop-up was an advertisement.

“We’re once again reminding people that when there’s a problem with their computer, they call the experts; not the other way around,” adds Badgerow. “And simply because you receive a pop-up saying your computer has a virus that may not always be the case.”

No matter if you’re confronted with this scheme via a phone call or a pop-up message, it’s important to avoid allowing unknown parties to gain remote access to your computer. According to Microsoft, anyone given such access to someone else’s computer can install malicious software, steal personal information, take control of the computer or direct customers to fraudulent websites where they are asked to enter their credit card information.

BBB offers these tips to avoid the Tech Support scam:

·         Don’t trust cold calls. Remember, computer firms don’t call you about a problem – you call them. If a caller claims there’s a problem with your computer, hang up.
·         Protect your computer. All computers should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.

·         Don’t let pop-ups panic you. Remember, pop-up messages can’t always be trusted. Look for an ‘X’ to close out the screen. If you’re concerned your computer has a virus, call an expert. Research businesses for free at bbb.org.

·         Address the issues. If you’ve allowed unknown individuals to gain remote access to your computer, contact a computer expert. If you’ve supplied your financial information and suspect fraud, contact your bank or credit card provider immediately.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

DNR reminder: be careful this fall when burning

Fire danger continues to increase in northwestern Minnesota. Dry and moderate drought conditions exist in portions of Polk, Red Lake, Pennington, Mahnomen, Clearwater and Beltrami counties.

“Warm weather, killing frosts and multiple days of windy conditions have elevated fire danger,” said Dan Carroll, DNR Bemidji Area fire prevention forester. “Peat is also igniting, requiring significant mop up efforts.”

Carroll reminds landowners that they are responsible for supervising their fires until they are out cold. This can require checking fires multiple times over multiple days after they are lit.

Burning permits are required to burn vegetative debris and agricultural fields when there is less than 3 inches of snow on the ground. Citizens should know the burning restrictions for their county, and check the weather forecast, before lighting a fire.

Burning permit activations may be restricted when weather conditions allow fires to spread at uncontrollable rates.

Current information on statewide fire danger and burning restrictions is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/forestry/fire and by calling your local DNR Forestry office.

Burning permits are available online, from local fire wardens or at local DNR Forestry offices.