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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Sales at Target decline over weekend

MINNEAPOLIS - Sales at Minnesota-based Target are taking a small hit following the massive data security breach.  "The Wall Street Journal" reports the number of transactions at Target stores fell three to four percent over the weekend compared to the final weekend before Christmas 2012. 

Stores in Minnesota appeared busy this weekend as shoppers took advantage of a ten-percent discount. The company announced last week that hackers had stolen data from up to 40-million credit and debit cards this holiday shopping season.  


A number of groups are suing Minnesota-based Target and more lawsuits are possible due to a credit card breach at the start of the holiday shopping season.  "USA Today" reports class-action lawsuits are now pending in California and Oregon, plus attorneys general in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and South Dakota want more information.  Millions of accounts are on the black market for sale.  Brian Krebs on his website says batches of a million cards are selling from $20 to $100 per card.  The Secret Service is investigating.


One Minnesota retail expert says the recent data theft at Target stores is another reminder of just how far behind credit card technology is in the U.S.  University of St. Thomas marketing professor Dave Brennan says many countries have moved past magnetic-strip credit cards to those that use digital chips to hold data.  Brennan says here in the U.S. when you are ready to pay your food tab, the server often takes your card away from the table to process it, meaning someone could swipe it for other purposes and steal the information.  Brennan says in Europe they bring out a machine and run the card through directly in front of the customer.  Many experts say the U.S. is using 20th century cards against 21st century hackers.  


Target continues reaching out to its customers after the data breach that put nearly 40-million shoppers at risk of having their credit card numbers stolen. Extra workers have been hired to help concerned shoppers--who have overwhelmed the Minneapolis-based company's phone lines since late last week. Target says customers will bear "zero liability for any charges they didn't make."  In the meantime, the company is warning of scam e-mails being sent to customers with fraudulent credit report links.  And they're letting customers know that Target never asks for social security or personal identification numbers via email.  If you notice credit or debit charges for purchases you did not make, you're urged to report it to your financial institution immediately.  


Salvation Army officials report a resounding success during this weekend's two day, two state donation drive.  Final numbers won't be available until mid-week, but it looks like Twin Cities donors contributed about a million dollars Friday and Saturday, and further giving across Minnesota and North Dakota could add a million more.  An anonymous donor pledged two million dollars in matching funds.  Twin Cities Salvation Army commander Major Jeff Strickler says the generous weekend has put them in a "very strong position" to hit their $10.8 million-dollar goal by the end of the year. 


A 17-year-old from Hermantown, just west of Duluth, spent last night and every night since June 7th sleeping outdoors.  Rudy Hummel constructed a snow house and filled it with layers of bedding made from straw, a foam pad and a sleeping bag, and tells the Duluth News-Tribune that he wears three pairs of pants and four shirts to bed and covers himself with four sleeping bags.  Hummel will be in his igloo of sorts tonight (Mon), when the mercury is expected to drop to minus-17 degrees in the Twin Ports.  The teen's parents support his effort to snooze outside for a year and say they have checked out his snow house to make sure it's safe.


Home for Christmas has never felt better for 140 Minnesota National Guard soldiers.  They returned to the state yesterday after spending eight months in Afghanistan.  The soldiers spent their time in the war zone working on repairing roads, construction, maintenance and other duties on supply routes.  A welcome ceremony was held at Cambridge-Isanti High School for the members of the Army's 850th Horizontal Engineers Company. 


Salvation Army officials say this weekend's two day, two state donation drive was a resounding success.  Although final numbers won't be available until mid-week, it looks like donors in the Twin Cities metro ponied up about $1 million dollars Friday and Saturday, and further giving across Minnesota and North Dakota could add $1 million more to the account.  An anonymous donor also pledged $2 million in matching funds.  Twin Cities Salvation Army commander Major Jeff Strickler says the generous weekend has put them in a, "very strong position," to hit their $10.8 million goal by the end of the year.  St. Grand, the mystery donor stuffing red kettles with 10 crisp $100 bills, made three signature gifts in the Twin Cities - one on Friday and two on Saturday.


Cloquet Police are investigating a stabbing that occurred early yesterday morning. A patrol officer apparently came upon a fight outside the Jack bar, and saw a man holding a knife.  When the officer tried to talk to the suspect he struggled, broke free, and ran away.  Shortly after the officer learned that a man had been stabbed.  The 28-year-old victim was hospitalized but is expected to recover.  The 37-year-old Sawyer man suspected in the stabbing was found and arrested a short time later. He is jailed awaiting formal charges.


U.S. Senator Al Franken (DFL-MInneapolis) is growing frustrated by two senators who are blocking his legislation on mental health.  The Minnesota Democrat did not identify the senators who have placed holds on the bill, but the MInneapolis Star-Tribune reports they are Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Lee of Utah.  Franken's legislation is a bipartisan effort to strengthen mental health programs nationwide, but Coburn and Lee believe it should be the states and not Washington that dictate treatment for the mentally ill.  Franken authored the bill with Republican Congressman Rich Nugent of Florida.


Senator Amy Klobuchar (DFL-Plymouth) awarded a Purple Heart to a Golden Valley veteran today --44 years after he was injured.  Fred Jenness enlisted in the Navy and served as a combat engineer supporting the intelligence community during the Vietnam War.  Jenness was wounded during an enemy attack on his team's compound.  Due to an error, Jenness never received his Purple Heart.  He will be honored today at a ceremony at Golden Valley City Hall. 


The Beltrami County Sheriff's Office is warning residents of a texting scam.  The county's 911 Dispatch Center has received many calls from people who've gotten messages that their bank accounts have been compromised.  The texts ask for a response at the First National Bank of Walker and list a fake phone number.  Officials say if you get this message, you should not reply.  Instead, you're urged to contact your financial institution directly.


Critics have said a higher state minimum wage could make Minnesota employers cut hiring, but economic studies show that hasn't happened in places that have done it before. Director of the Minnesota Budget Project Nan Madden says economists have spent years comparing states that have raised the minimum wage to neighbors that haven't and have often been surprised to see that increasing low-end pay hasn't cost jobs. Some of the studies found businesses make up the price of higher wages though reducing what they have to pay out due to high turnover. John Puckett, owner of Punch Pizza, has begun paying new hires $10 an hour, and says it isn't a choice made for the sake of good publicity or a short-term boost to morale, but because it pays off over years. 


A local campaign wants to ensure that Minnesotans get the appropriate care during visits to the doctor. The Choosing Wisely Minnesota campaign includes information for patients and doctors created by medical experts and supported by Consumer Reports that is intended to reduce unnecessary care.  Dr. Howard Epstein with the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement says that there are a number of common practices that patients and doctors should question--things like immediately getting an X-ray or MRI for low back pain or taking antibiotics for sore throats.  The campaign also urges doctors in Minnesota not to routinely order CT scans for minor head injuries or an uncomplicated headache, not to repeat a colonoscopy for at least five years for patients who have just one or two small polyps, and to avoid routine preoperative testing for low-risk surgeries without a clinical indication. 


The latest data show more kids than ever are prepared when they get to kindergarten.  A new report finds nearly three in four are school-ready, and Alexandra Fiztsimmons of Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota credits greater access to quality early-childhood programs. Minnesota Department of Education statistics show 73 percent of children in the state were school-ready when they entered kindergarten last year, up from 60 percent two years earlier.


A candlelight vigil and food drive is planned in Hastings this afternoon (4:30-5:30).  The event is hosted by the Minnesota Nurses Association in an effort to help community food shelves and raise awareness of a contract negotiation between nurses and the Allina Regina Medical Center management team. ER Nurse Jayne Traynor says a fair and equitable contract would be an excellent tool to keep top-rate staff in Hastings and provide the best care for patients.  Traynor says the goal is to get a contract similar to what other Allina nurses have in places like Buffalo, Cambridge, New Ulm and Owatonna.


December is typically the most dangerous time of year when it comes to fire hazards.  Deputy State Fire Marshal Becky White says that's because it's a hectic time of year and most of us are doing more things in our homes related to fire--things like cooking and lighting candles.  White says fireplaces trimmed with flammable decorations can also be potential fire hazards. She's reminding everyone to be aware of these threats and to test smoke alarms heading into the holidays.