Be careful about who you give financial info to. Photo by damircudic/Getty Images

As the COVID-19 pandemic has grown, so has the confidence of fraudsters who are hoping to scam people out of money. A large portion of our everyday lives have moved online and onto our phones, so it's more important than ever that you know what common tricks to watch out for.

Texas Citizens Bank continually looks out for its customers, creating tip sheets that help everyone become more educated about different types of fraud, from email scammers to debit and credit card crooks.

Here, they outline four common COVID-19 schemes that are making the rounds:

1. Fake offers of info, supplies, or payments
If it sounds official and mentions COVID-19 or the CARES Act, it must be legit, right? Wrong. These websites, mobile apps, and emails with links or attachments are entirely fake. Do not open, click, or download anything sent to you — instead, go directly to the official website on your own to find the info.

2. Someone posing as a doctor or ill family member
If you get a call claiming that someone you love is ill with coronavirus — and too ill to come to the phone, at that — and needs money for treatment, don't believe it. Hang up immediately and call that family member yourself.

3. Claims that your Social Security benefits are suspended
If you receive a letter or email, no matter how official-looking, that says your SSA benefits have been suspended due to COVID-19, know that it's not true. The SSA has not suspended or reduced any benefits, pandemic or not. Be sure to report this scam to the government here.

4. Offers of COVID-19 tests and vaccines
If someone is claiming they can send coronavirus tests directly to your house, they're lying. If they claim they can do the same with a vaccine, they're really lying. You can only obtain tests at hospitals, urgent care facilities, and your doctor's office, and we're still waiting on a reliable vaccine to be approved. Until then, be extra careful about who you believe.

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Texas Citizens Bank is an independently owned, FDIC-insured bank that specializes in Houston's small and medium-sized business owners. If you have questions about financial options during coronavirus or how to keep your money safe, contact a TCB banker today at 713-948-5700.

It's important to keep it all straight. Photo by Blake Callahan/Getty

The do's and don'ts of using your PPP loan funds

Do This, Not That

Now that you've taken the first steps toward getting your Paycheck Protection Program loan funds, Texas Citizens Bank is here to help you stay on track by sharing important do's and don'ts about how to use them.

The staff of Texas Citizens Bank, you might recall, worked overtime in April to process $97 million in PPP loans, helping nearly 500 small Houston businesses avoid layoffs or closing their doors completely.

So you would be wise to heed their advice — even the Houston SBA District Office is using these PPP guidelines to help small businesses make the most of their loans.

DO: Use the funds for payroll and authorized expenses only
Your PPP loan is to be used for payroll costs, group healthcare expenses, and other authorized costs, such as your business mortgage expenses or rent, utilities, and interest payments on other debt.

DON'T: Use the funds for other things
Make sure you use your loan only to pay for authorized expenses. You should expect to be audited by the bank or government officials. By avoiding misuse of the funds, your loan may be fully forgivable.

DO: Be organized
Keep records of how you use your loan funds. Opening and using a separate deposit account for the PPP loan funds can make this easy and streamline any auditing process. Contact a TCB banker to find out more about business deposit accounts.

DON'T: Mix loan funds with personal assets
Again, to keep things easy to track, avoid depositing your PPP loan funds into a personal account and avoid the temptation of using the funds to pay for personal expenses.

DO: Keep the rules in mind
Remember that your PPP funds need to be used immediately for authorized costs incurred during the eight weeks immediately following the loan's origination. Also, at least 75 percent of the forgiven amounts must be used for payroll expenses during that time.

DON'T: Attempt to cheat
Unscrupulous borrowers may try to take advantage of the law's gray areas, but please don't. Again, the bank or representative from the government is likely to perform an audit. The last thing you want is to be caught in an act of fraudulent use of funds.

If you would like to download these PPP loan fund do's and don'ts as a PDF checklist, you can do so here.

Teamwork and dedication equal success. Photo by Katleho Seisa/Getty

Houston-focused bank comes through with record number of vital PPP loans

PPP MVP

At the beginning of April, small businesses were allowed to begin applying for Paycheck Protection Program loans, a historic solution designed to help cover payroll, benefits, mortgage payments, and utilities.

It was a mad dash as many raced to figure out the new program, which only had an initial $349 billion allocated to the SBA for PPP loans. Every minute working on these PPP loans mattered to the Houston small business owners who applied.

Working through evenings and weekends, the staff at Texas Citizens Bank processed a staggering amount of loans in the first round, and an impressive amount of additional funds in round two.

In the impossibly small, 13-day window before round one closed, TCB processed and funded $73 million, helping 297 Houston small businesses maintain payroll and avoid layoffs. For round two, it processed $24 million, or 182 PPP loans.

"They were real heroes for many businesses," says David Gow, CEO of Gow Media (the parent company of InnovationMap). "Their team was working 'round the clock with businesses like ours to give us the best possible shot at PPP funding. I think they were one of the top banks in taking care of their clients during a very stressful window of time."

"With the help of Texas Citizens Bank and the PPP loan, we were able to get our entire team back up to their full pay the same week as funding," says Christy Lovoi of South Shore Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, who notes that the practice was having difficulty with its previous bank and switched to TCB. "While it will take some time to get back to pre-pandemic levels, the PPP loan will definitely make it much easier. The response and help from everyone at Texas Citizens Bank has been absolutely stellar."

"A large number of employees are reporting to work today and receiving a paycheck because of your outstanding efforts," added Brent Cox, vice president of member relations at the Texas Bankers Association, on LinkedIn.

TCB chairman and CEO Duncan Stewart says that the Houston community bank team arrived early, hired additional SBA experts to assist in the processing, and worked evenings and weekends to approve and process PPP loans, all in support of their local business owners and employees.

"I could not be more proud of our team and what they have accomplished in the last two weeks," says Duncan. "Their dedication and sacrifice were commendable — what they did truly mattered. This is a historic time. Many years from now, they can look back with great pride in the part they played over these weeks to save companies and the livelihoods of their employees."

"A huge thank you to Texas Citizens Bank for their amazing work on behalf of Trinity," wrote Bryan Kreitz, president of business development at Trinity (TLD), on LinkedIn. "I will no longer make jokes about 'banker's hours,' as they were responding to emails at all hours of the day and night."

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Visit here for more information on PPP loans. Wondering about finances during the pandemic? This article outlines several options.

You and your money have options right now. Getty Images

Your money resources during COVID-19 and beyond: explained.

Now may be a time of uncertainty, but you shouldn't have to also worry about the availability and security of your money. Texas Citizens Bank is always available to answer questions — COVID-19-related and otherwise — and has laid out some options for those wondering what sort of financial resources are available.

SBA loan
Cash flow is a business' life blood. The Small Business Administration is working with local banks to offer helpful business resources during this challenging time.

The Paycheck Protection Program provides small businesses — including independent contractors and the self-employed — with the funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs, including benefits. Funds can also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.

Those interested in applying for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through the SBA are encouraged to apply through their current financial institution as that will likely be the quickest route to receiving funding.

Loan payments will also be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required, and neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees. For more information about PPP, head here.

The SBA also offers low-interest disaster recovery loans to help businesses and homeowners recover from declared disasters. They can be used for both physical damage repairs and economic injury, the latter up to $2 million in assistance for businesses and nonprofits to help overcome their temporary loss of revenue.

Accounts receivable purchase solution
Accounts receivable purchase solution provides cash upfront for your invoices. TCB will check your customer's creditworthiness and, once approved, the bank will purchase one or more accounts receivable from that customer. You get the majority (usually 80 percent) of your AR amount upfront and accrue daily fee (for example, if you get paid the next day, you're only charged for one day). Once your customer pays the AR, TCB pays you the remaining balance, minus a small fee.

TCB's AR purchase solution ranges from $10,000-$1 million and doesn't have a long-term contract, allowing you the flexibility to pick and choose which invoices you'd like to sell to the bank. Find out more about how Accounts Receivable Purchase Solution works here.

How to bank from home
Most banks offer online banking and mobile apps with the following features:

  • Mobile check deposit — deposit checks simply by taking a photo of them using your mobile banking app
  • Online bill pay — pay your internet, electricity, gas, and other recurring bills online or through the app
  • Account summary — check your account balance and view your recent transactions
  • Some apps, like the Texas Citizens Bank app, offer additional services like budgeting, spending alerts, and peer-to-peer payment services, so you can quickly and securely monitor your spending and pay a friend or family member

Lastly, be on the lookout for financial scams. Fraudsters and scam artists tend to take advantage of uncertain times like these. Email, text, and phone scams are rampant, so please be careful to check that all communication you receive is truly from your bank. If you are unsure of a communication's validity, don't respond or giveaway any personal information. Always contact your bank directly to check.

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Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.