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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3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.