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 makes play to score soccer innovation

new goal

Houston is kicking up its 2026 FIFA World Cup bid by a notch or two with a new innovative initiative.

The Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee on October 14 committed to establishing the nonprofit Soccer Innovation Institute if Houston becomes a host city for the FIFA World Cup.

"The institute will rely on Houston's spirit of innovation to create a united community investment in building a legacy that goes well beyond the city," according to a news release announcing the potential formation of the nonprofit.

The soccer institute, made up of a network of experts and leaders from various global organizations, would conduct specialized think tanks and would support a series of community programs.

"As the energy capital of the world, the global leader in medicine, the universal headquarters for NASA, and the home to numerous sports tech companies, Houston has an abundance of resources that are unmatched by other cities," Houston billionaire John Arnold, chairman of the 2026 bid committee, says in a news release. "By bringing these organizations together under one umbrella, the Soccer Innovation Institute presents the ultimate opportunity to redefine the player and fan experience, and develop a lasting legacy for the long-term benefit of the FIFA World Cup."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says the institute would align with the city's efforts to build a strong ecosystem for innovation, along with its passion for soccer.

"Houston is recognized as a leader in technology and innovation. We have many innovation hubs around the city that bring bright minds into collaborative spaces where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," the mayor says.

Held every four years, the World Cup assembles national men's soccer teams from around the world in one of the most planet's most watched sporting events. The traditional 32-team tournament will expand to 48 teams in 2026. After 2026, the World Cup might be staged every two years.

Among those collaborating on the Houston 2026 bid are NRG, the Texas Medical Center, Shell, Chevron, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the Council for Responsible Sport, the Houston Dynamo, the Houston Dash, the City of Houston, Harris County, and Houston First.

The FIFA World Cup 2026 will be played in 16 cities across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Houston and Dallas are among the 17 cities vying to become a U.S. host. A final decision is expected in the first half of 2022. If Houston is selected, it will host six World Cup games at NRG Stadium.

Between October 21 and November 1, World Cup delegates will visit eight cities in the running to be North American hosts: Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and Monterrey, Mexico.

Why small businesses are a big deal in Pearland

Small Business, Big Success

Here's a fun fact: 82 percent of businesses in Pearland are locally owned.

Besides providing a warm, fuzzy feeling, that fact actually has a big impact on what the the Lower Kirby city has to offer other companies that are looking to relocate.

Understanding that small businesses are vital to the local economy, the Pearland Economic Development Corporation does all it can to support the formation and growth of new businesses.

To gain a better understanding of the needs of local businesses, PEDC recently conducted a survey of all businesses in the community. The survey found that 92 percent of business owners felt that Pearland is a great place to live, work, and operate a business, and more than 80 percent of survey respondents gave excellent or good marks to Pearland as a place to do business — higher than the national comparison.

The city recently launched an online permitting portal that helps emerging businesses navigate the business registration process with a streamlined, easy-to-use interface that can be accessed anywhere, any time.

By answering just a few questions, potential new business owners can see all the necessary requirements and fees. And commercial permits are reviewed and approved within 20 days, on average.

Additionally, PEDC and community partners are creating an Entrepreneurship Hub, which will enhance Pearland's innovation entrepreneurship culture by creating events, programs, and activities for entrepreneurs and small business owners to inspire ideation and entrepreneurship.

The Hub will connect the city to local and regional entrepreneurship assistance programs, service providers, and funding sources to help businesses maximize their growth potential and overall success. Offerings of the Hub will include business plan competitions, proactive coaching, networking events, and student programs.

In addition to the resources offered, many small businesses that have relocated to Pearland cite the safety of the community and ease of access via multiple thoroughfares as top reasons that led them to the community.

Brask Neela, a small business founded in Louisiana, constructed a new manufacturing facility in Pearland to custom fabricate heat transfer equipment on 9.45 acres in Pearland's Industrial Drive Business Park. After its move to the Pearland area, the company can better service petrochemical and chemical customers in Texas City, Freeport, and Baytown, as well as global clients.

In addition to PEDC's assistance with land acquisition and attractive incentives, Brask Neela was drawn to the location's proximity to the workforce, the area's infrastructure, and open communications with the City of Pearland.

"Pearland provided incentives, proximity to workforce both for shop and office, infrastructure, and clear communication to address any needs with city officials," says Kevin Sareen, Brask Neela's business development manager.

Rollac Shutters manufactures exterior rolling shutters, solar zip shades, and awnings, and opened a 105,000-square-foot headquarters and manufacturing facility that allowed the company to engage in environmentally responsible manufacturing practices and integrate sustainability principles in its day-to-day operations.

"As a family-owned business, location and incentives were most important to us," says Eva Konrad, vice president at Rollac Shutters. "Pearland offered both and we love it here."

Houston-area school scores top 10 status in Texas

star pupils

A Houston-area school earned top honors in Texas in U.S. News & World Report's first-ever ranking of the state's best elementary schools.

Creekside Forest Elementary School comes in at No. 10. Creekside is nestled in the bustling Woodlands and in the Tomball Independent School District.

A public school, Creekside Forest Elementary boasts student population of 571, serving serves kindergarten through fifth grade. Impressively, according to the report, 93 percent of students here scored at or above the proficient level for math, and 87 percent scored at or above that level for reading.

Notably, the student-teacher ratio is at Creekside is 16:1, which is better than that of the district. The school employs 36 equivalent full-time teachers and one full-time school counselor.

The student population at Creekside is made up of 49 percent female students and 51 percent male students, with minority student enrollment at 43 percent. One percent of students here at economically disadvantaged.

According to the school's website, Creekside "is a learning community where all continuously strive for excellence."

Unlike its annual list of the country's best high schools, U.S. News & World Report didn't come up with a national ranking of elementary schools. Rather, it published a ranking for each state.

Myriad other Houston-area schools land later on the list, including West University Elementary at No. 17. According to U.S. News, the 10 best elementary schools in Texas are:

  1. William B. Travis Academy/Vanguard for the Academically Talented and Gifted, Dallas ISD.
  2. Windsor Park G/T Elementary School, Corpus Christi ISD.
  3. Old Union Elementary School, Carroll ISD.
  4. Carroll Elementary School, Carroll ISD.
  5. Hudson Elementary School, Longview ISD.
  6. Sudie L. Williams Talented and Gifted Academy, Dallas ISD.
  7. Canyon Creek Elementary School, Round Rock ISD.
  8. Carver Center, Midland ISD.
  9. Cactus Ranch Elementary School, Round Rock ISD.
  10. Creekside Forest Elementary School, Tomball ISD.
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.