Guest column

Houston banking exec shares tips for keeping online information secure amid coronavirus threats

You are more vulnerable to financial cyber threats in a crisis. Here are some tips for staying safe. Getty Images

While Houston residents are aware of the health and financial impacts of COVID-19, the threat to individual security due to the rise in online scams has only just begun.

Scammers have already started to prey on the unsuspecting victims who are now working, shopping and banking almost entirely online. A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission stated that due to the rise in online hacking and phishing scams, coronavirus-related frauds have already reached nearly $12 million in losses, impacting more than 15,000 Americans.

As individuals continue to become more and more dependent on technology during this extended time at home, it is important to be cautious and knowledgeable to avoid possible scams. Below are tips to consider when navigating coronavirus-related security threats.

Verify the URL

When dealing with financial matters, it is important to check the URL to ensure the site is secure and legitimate before clicking on a link provided by a third-party source or found within an email thread. Scan the link for misspellings and other abnormalities that appear to be out of place. It may also be helpful to visit the original website in a separate browser to compare the web addresses side by side. Illegitimate website links can lead to unsecure sites, viruses, and possible identity theft.

Check donation sources

Especially during this time, many Houstonians are donating to relief organizations working to fight the impacts of the coronavirus. Unfortunately, there are several faux fundraising campaigns claiming to support disaster relief, and the scammers behind these sites are preying on the goodwill of unsuspecting donors.

Consider supporting a charity that is well-known, transparent, and established, rather than a new organization with little history or information. Red flags may include sources requesting wire transfer information or a social security number, or charities applying pressure to donate immediately.

Guard financial information

It is especially important to guard financial information during this time to prevent identity theft. Many false stimulus check portals have surfaced online, encouraging visitors to provide personal information such as checking account details or credit card numbers.

The IRS encourages individuals to practice due-diligence and to be wary of details that may identify a scam. For example, noticing key words such as "Stimulus Check" or "Stimulus Payment" in place of the official term of economic impact payment.

If you have filed your taxes electronically, this payment will automatically be deposited into your bank account. For those who receive a check for the impact payment, it is important to remember that one of the best ways to protect financial assets is to be sure they are deposited in a reliable, federally insured bank account. Accounts are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each account ownership category, ensuring that your money is safe and protected.

Monitor accounts regularly

With the rise of online payments, it is important that individuals examine their accounts regularly to verify spending activity. While many assume that a scammer will take a large amount from a bank account, immediately triggering security functions and resulting in a text message to the account holder, this is not always the case.

Oftentimes, scammers will begin with smaller purchases, testing limits before stealing more. Additionally, it is important to check credit activity during this time to monitor for possible identity theft.

When it comes to making purchases and payments online, it is important to practice caution, even with sites that may appear to be trustworthy. By paying attention to the details and red flags that may signify a fraudulent site, individuals may be able to avoid online scams.

This is a time of great need. Unfortunately, it is also a time of great opportunity for criminals. As Houstonians respond, as they always do, be sure to protect yourself while you are helping our community.

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Jay Rogers is the chairman and CEO of IBC Bank.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cloudbreak Enterprises is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo via Getty Images

Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

"We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

"Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudgate is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

"We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

"What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

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