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.

---

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."

---

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.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.