The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 weeks ago

Frameworq brings innovation through software platform

(Doing More Today/Contributed)

Necessity is the mother of invention. But in Birmingham, a father-and-son team has devised an innovative app to help businesses effortlessly manage ongoing construction and facilities maintenance projects.

KMS, formerly Kemp Management Solutions, has spent the past decade growing the company while helping much larger businesses flourish, including Regions Bank and peer banks.

When the global pandemic hit, KMS didn’t miss a beat.

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“When we went remote on March 13, it was literally a non-event for us,” said CEO Mike Kemp. “With our new project management system, we were able to continue to do business, and manage our schedules, costs and collaboration. We have a live platform providing real-time data. It was a tremendous asset.”

The proprietary software platform is called Frameworq, which KMS provides for its clients.

“Frameworq will become a business verb like Zoom. It is that transformative a solution for the level of business,” said Marcus Lundy, supplier diversity function manager for Regions. “This software is so unique because it provides a seamless overview of project management from start to finish.”

Two years ago, Mike Kemp thought the time for such a new platform had come.

He reached out to the University of Alabama Business School’s Management Information Systems group, which helped devise a beta program. Then he brought in Airship, a local software design and development company, for their expertise in writing code.

“We drove the direction as to what we wanted to do and how it was to function, and they helped us build it out,” Kemp explained. “We spent 2019 investing in the software and rebuilding it to a workable condition by late 2019, then rolled it out.”

Every step of the way, he had his own in-house project manager: his son, James, who received his MBA at Alabama and has an eye for innovation as the KMS director of business operations.

“We realized there’s a unique market that needs to manage multiple projects all at once,” James Kemp said. “That’s our wheelhouse – managing high volumes of small projects efficiently –producing real cost and time savings for our clients. We wanted to manage our projects and reports in a clear, easy way from anywhere.”

Originally named pmngr, the Kemps are rebranding to Frameworq for the start of 2021.

“There’s a wave of new products coming in this industry space, and I think what we have is unique,” James Kemp said. “Ultimately, this is the Frameworq for your all of your projects. This is a tool to move forward. It can eventually be used to manage process and activity at scale in several different industries.”

Regions is on board. So are fellow banks, including Truist. Alabama Power is now utilizing Frameworq to manage projects for its energy services group.

“When we engage with our clients, we can bring something of value with this new tool,” Mike Kemp said. “In the construction management business, there are very few black-owned companies operating in the large corporation space. So, to come into an organization like Regions goes beyond just project management. It ties to our mission statement to bring innovative solutions.”

KMS manages offsite ATMs for Regions, tracking multiple projects with the new software.

“To date, they’ve done roughly 24 projects for us,” said John Earley, senior retail project leader for Regions. “And we have a large list in 2021 they’ll be performing. We’re looking at other ways to do things with them and grow on the project side.”

Scott Riley, head of corporate real estate operations at Regions, points out that KMS has answered each call for change.

“We’re always in a mode of testing, piloting and challenging ourselves – as well as our existing service providers,” Riley said. “We’re constantly looking for providers that we can test the market with. Frankly, a lot of those companies don’t pan out. But KMS’ solid performance and ability to innovate has not only improved us, it has also made us more efficient.”

The Kemps recognize the contributions of others, from academia to small business, in making Frameworq come to fruition. But there’s a special praise reserved for when they talk about each other.

“I’m super proud of James,” Mike said. “He took this concept of an idea I had and shepherded it through, even down to how we’d package it and secure it. It was awesome to watch. A lot of the enhancements to the system were his ideas, his understanding of the business and the ability to translate that to the software.”

James deflects the praise and returns it to the original source.

“I give the credit to my Dad for the idea,” James said. “He’s an industry veteran. He has been around tons of different software. And he could see that something new was needed for managing a high volume of smaller projects—projects ranging from $50,000 to $5 million.”

Haley Medved Kendrick is the director for the Bronze Valley Accelerator, a gene8tor program that supports innovation and technology-enabled companies created by diverse and underrepresented founders.

“Frameworq is bringing the strength and flexibility of digital project management tools,” Kendrick said. “By integrating cost and milestone functions into the tool, and aligning with the PMI standards, Frameworq’s tool can transform the way the construction industry manages their projects.”

From banking to utilities to construction, KMS is working to create something that levels the playing field for small businesses.

“It allows us to serve Regions at the highest level and give them the service they expect in the most efficient manner,” James Kemp said. “From using our software platform, we’ll be able to figure out how to do it even better by understanding the underlying analytics.”

The Kemps are determined to stay one step ahead of everyone.

“We believe continuous improvement will allow us to build on our relationships and to help our clients achieve their goals,” James added.

(Courtesy of Regions)

3 months ago

Four tips to keep seniors safe from scams

(Pixabay, YHN)

This holiday season, we have a suggestion: Check on your parents. Or grandparents. And make sure everything is OK.

Holidays are about family time, but 2020 is decidedly different. Social distancing will be the norm. Unfortunately, scammers don’t follow the rules. And that puts seniors at even more risk.

Cold, hard numbers bear that out. According to Protecting Older Consumers 2019-2020: A Report of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), adults 60 and over are more likely to be victims of fraud – and less likely to report cases to authorities. The FTC points out that the risk gets worse as people age. The FTC also reports that adults age 80 and older suffer the biggest losses, with a median reported loss of $1,600.

It gets worse. Adults aged 60+ are six times more likely to be the victims of tech support scams; they are three times more likely to report losses due to prize, sweepstakes and lottery scams; and this demographic is twice as likely as young adults to report financial losses due to impostor fraud.

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“Always keep in mind, these people are trying to bait you in to giving them information,” said Jon Kucharski, fraud strategy manager at Regions. “The best strategy is to ignore them. For example, if you respond, ‘You’ve got the wrong guy,’ to an unsolicited text message, the person on the other end knows they’ve a got a live phone number. These people are making a lot of money because people respond.”

You can protect grandparents – and yourself – by recognizing these four signs of potential fraud:

  1. Scammers pretending to be from known organizations – With new technology, numbers can look official on Caller ID. But the IRS, Social Security and Medicare aren’t going to call you and ask for personal information. And a tech company won’t offer to fix the problem they “just discovered” remotely on your computer.
  2. Scammers calling with a problem, or a prize waiting for you – Again, the government isn’t going to call out of the blue. Nor will a legitimate official tell you to send money to get a loved out of a legal scrape you knew nothing about. A sweepstakes company won’t call you saying you’re the grand prize winner, and only need to pay a nominal fee to receive your jackpot.
  3. Scammers pressuring you to act immediately – They may tell you if you don’t send money or act right now, they’ll have you arrested or sued. The threats don’t end there. They could threaten to take away your business license or deport you. And in one of the latest technology scams, they’ll threaten to take over your computer if you don’t respond.
  4. Scammers insisting you pay in a specific way – To get out of trouble, you can send a money transfer or a gift card. Or they’ll insist they’ll send a check for you to deposit. In return, you send them money.

Jeff Taylor, Regions’ head of commercial fraud forensics, points out that there are obvious reasons why scammers exploit seniors more effectively.

“Seniors are targeted because they’re available and they’re at home,” Taylor said. “In some cases, they may have hearing impairments and may not understand all they’re hearing. And many are not as technologically savvy.”

Despite all these scams, stopping fraudsters is simple. Share these tips with your parents, grandparents – in fact, anyone you care about:

  1. Block unwanted phone calls and filter unsolicited texts – They can’t get to you if you don’t respond. And if you see an unfamiliar number, don’t answer.
  2. Don’t give out personal or financial information to someone you don’t know – Legitimate organizations, including banks, won’t ask you for that information in a phone call, text or email. If you really think the call was legit, look up the organization, find a real phone number and make the call yourself to confirm.
  3. Take a deep breath – No matter how urgent the matter is according to the person on the other line, don’t act immediately. Someone reaching out for legitimate purposes will give you ample time to fix the problem.
  4. Stop and talk to someone you trust – That’s what family and friends are for. Tell them what happened and, together, decide if you are being scammed.

Learn the scams and steps to take – and keep – loved ones safe. If all else fails, report fraud and help others avoid the same fate at this website: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov.

Stay on top of fraud prevention with the new resource page from Regions at www.regions.com/fraudprevention.

The information presented is general in nature and should not be considered, legal, accounting or tax advice. Regions reminds its customers that they should be vigilant about fraud and security and that they are responsible for taking action to protect their computer systems. Fraud prevention requires a continuous review of your policies and practices, as the threat evolves daily. There is no guarantee that all fraudulent transactions will be prevented or that related financial losses will not occur. Visit regions.com/stopfraud, or speak with your banker for further information on how you can help prevent fraud.

(Courtesy of Regions Bank)

5 months ago

Regions’ dining room heroes feed community seniors, students

(Regions Doing More Today/Contributed)

Chef Edith Jerald moves from station to station as her staff prepares more than 100 meals to be distributed for lunch. Salads on one side. Sandwiches on the other. Downstairs, another team is about to arrive to deliver the meals across Birmingham.

It’s an idea that started on a front porch last spring.

Lee Taylor works on Regions Bank’s Community Affairs team. Her husband, Jeff, also works for the bank. His focus is keeping customers’ accounts safe from fraud. At the end of the day, they meet on the porch and focus on each other – how their days went, how the family is doing and how they can help others.

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The Taylors are volunteers with the Community Food Bank, connecting people in need with nutritious meals. Soon, the Taylors saw how they, and Regions, could do more.

“We know some people have less access to food during the pandemic. In fact, the need is bigger than before,” Lee said. “We thought this was a way to help. We had community partners we worked with we could help. And we had chef Edith’s team, who wanted to get back to work.”

Jerald’s kitchen is at Regions’ headquarters. But with so many people working from home these days, there hadn’t been as many people to feed during the pandemic.

So Lee Taylor reached out to Leroy Abrahams, Regions’ head of Community Affairs. She shared with him her idea. Then he talked to Jerald.

“Leroy and I had a great conversation about something we could do as a team,” Jerald said. “We could get back to work, doing what we loved, and our team could, in turn, help others. So I worked out the details to do this safely and brought my team back in to get started.”

Now, Jerald’s kitchen is back in action. Each Tuesday and Thursday, she and her team cook incredible food. Then it’s time to serve 100 hundred meals to The Foundry Mission on Tuesdays. They serve another 100 meals at Positive Maturity on Thursdays. And they provide 20 meals, twice a week, to Maranathan Academy.

“This is my passion,” Taylor said. “Each week we’re feeding people in recovery, as well as seniors and students. We meet up in the parking deck and the dining staff is always on time, ready for us to make the deliveries. We have a system down, and it runs seamlessly.”

Over the past three months, these dining room heroes have made 43 trips, delivering 3,430 free meals. The meal deliveries are scheduled through at least the end of October.

In Bessemer, between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, The Foundry helps hundreds of families each year through its addiction recovery programs.

“When you donate to the Foundry, you’re not only supporting a worthy charity, you’re keeping a family together, you’re saving a life and you’re helping families have their loved ones home for the holidays,” said Foundry CEO Micah Andrews.

Amid a global pandemic, Regions’ weekly meal donations are proving a godsend.

“Regions is way more than a banking partner to us,” Andrews said. “Regions stepped in and has helped us through these months in real, tangible ways by providing meals and much more.”

Positive Maturity focuses on enhancing the lives of older adults through social services and civic engagement. Executive Director Penny Kakoliris said senior companion volunteers work 20-30 hours a week by visiting other seniors at home.

“Our senior companion volunteers are low-income individuals who volunteer in the community, allowing other seniors to remain independent,” Kakoliris said. “But since COVID-19 hit, they haven’t been able to go into homes like before.”

That’s also meant normal stipends, as well as mileage and meal reimbursements, have been limited, creating extra financial burdens. But the 100 weekly Regions meals have a positive impact on Positive Maturity’s most isolated, at-risk seniors.

“These free meals are a treat – something they know is nutritious and yummy,” Kakoliris said. “It’s not only feeding their bodies and souls; it’s providing them social interaction they otherwise have missed. It’s truly been a blessing for our senior companions.”

In Birmingham, the Maranathan Academy serves at-risk youths. The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating to the school family, said Executive Director Donna Dukes.

“Among the family members in our circle of students, faculty and staff, we’ve lost 38 people to COVID,” Dukes said.

Thus, providing nutrition to students safely is critical.

“Access to healthy lunches is of primary importance at Maranathan Academy – and can be quite an expense,” Dukes said. “The lunches from Regions provide our students well-balanced, nutritious meals. In giving, Regions lets them know someone cares about their well-being. The smiles on their faces when they receive their lunches say it all.”

For Abrahams, Taylor and the Community Affairs team, lunches provide an opportunity to build deeper relationships, and make a greater difference, with community partners.

“We’ve spread the joy to three different groups, of three different ages,” Taylor said. “We not only helped them, but we helped our own associates who are so proud of what they are doing.”

For Jerald and her dining room heroes, the meals offered a reason to get back to work – work that includes daily meals for the smaller number of Regions associates commuting to the office.

“We do what we do because we love what we do,” Jerald said. “And that’s only reinforced when you hear back about the impact your meals make.”

This story originally appeared on Regions Bank’s Doing More Today website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Helping small businesses, keeping main streets viable

(Regions/Contributed)

The mission statement is only four words: Creating jobs. Keeping character.

The work of Main Street Alabama is crucial during normal times. Even more so during the pandemic. More than two dozen communities rely on guidance and support from the nonprofit organization.

“Main Street Alabama has been extraordinarily proactive during the COVID crisis, sharing daily information, strategies, webinars and other educational programs,” said Paul Carruthers, a Regions banker and longtime board member of the statewide organization. “There has been a sharing of ideas on how to assist small businesses in Main Street communities, how to change and increase marketing efforts, and educating small businesses on how to increase sales via online avenues and promotions.”

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Founded a little over a decade ago, Main Street Alabama stresses public-private partnerships, job-creation strategies and new investments to revitalize business districts. The program has had big successes, like those in downtown Gadsden.

But the pandemic creates a whole new challenge.

“Main Street Alabama is working with our communities on the next chapter – what will our new normal look like?” said Mary Helmer, Main Street Alabama President.

Helping small businesses prepare, Main Street is focusing on three key areas.

“This includes funding, online sales and marketing assistance, and merchandising for a safe shopping environment. That will be our focus moving forward,” Helmer said.

While outreach varies from community to community, Main Street chapters are coming up with creative ways to help, including these examples.

‘We are poised to endure’

In Wetumpka, a short commute from the state capital of Montgomery, Main Street Executive Director Jenny Stubbs understands the frustrations of local business owners. She and her husband own Frios Gourmet Pops in the downtown district adjacent to the Coosa River.

“We are continually touching base with downtown businesses, and that will remain a priority,” Stubbs said. “Keeping our revitalization initiatives in the public eye has been a priority, as well. Unfortunately, our two largest fundraisers, along with two community events, had to be postponed or canceled, which is obviously disconcerting.”

Not to be deterred, members of Main Street Wetumpka created a downtown dance-off tour of Wetumpka that quickly went viral and helps keeps spirits up.

With video conferencing becoming the norm – for businesses, students and friends just keeping up – Main Street created downtown Wetumpka backgrounds that can be used free of charge.

Before the pandemic, Main Street completed some landscaping projects, including the Alleyway, part of the new Tulotoma Snail Trail of greenspace. In addition, Main Street complemented the city’s downtown revitalization efforts by funding and selecting six benches to complement the streetscape. Daily, people are getting out and enjoying the downtown district, working to keep a safe social distance.

“After decades of deterioration, including a stalled streetscape and a tornado, I feel like we are poised to endure,” Stubbs said. “I have every reason to be optimistic despite the very real challenges and uncertainty taking place.”

Takeout, gift cards — and giving back

In Alexander City, a half-hour drive from Auburn University, Main Street purchased $25 gift cards to put money back in the registers of local merchants and restaurants. Each day, Main Street Alexander City Executive Director Stacey Jeffcoat conducts an online trivia question with the winner earning one of the gift cards.

Main Street also promotes “Takeout Thursday,” encouraging locals to order from downtown restaurants.

“We’ve waived Main Street membership fees for the year, so we are promoting all downtown businesses whether they are members or not,” Jeffcoat said. “You’re looking at 45-50 businesses now. And what I hear from the merchants is that everyone is appreciative.”

Jeffcoat’s Main Street team has worked with officials from the city and local Chamber of Commerce to provide the most up-to-date information on available loans and grants for local businesses.

“We’re blessed to live in this community, which is very supportive of our local businesses,” Jeffcoat added. “They’re hurting now, but they’re keeping their employees working. In addition, they’re feeding the nurses at the hospital and members of the police and fire departments – just another way of giving back to their community.”

‘Business as unusual’ and potential grants

In Heflin, a small, rural community near the Georgia state line, Main Street is distributing gift certificates through Facebook contests.

“We decided to take $1,000 out of our account and provide gift certificates,” explained Tanya Maloney, the Director of Economic Development for Heflin and head of Main Street. “The businesses are loving this. The winners get a $50 gift certificate for the business of their choosing.”

A partnership with the Chamber of Commerce will produce “Business as Unusual,” a series of online interviews with business owners where they talk about how they’re adjusting to the new normal, how they see small business going forward – and how community support is needed.

The most ambitious program is in the works. Main Street, the chamber and the Heflin Industrial Development Board is working on providing small-business grants that would provide capital expenses to help cover utilities and payroll.

“The Industrial Development Board would provide the funding from a local tax that goes to boosting business,” Maloney said. “We have a call scheduled with our community foundation to get this rolling.”

Moving Forward

There is no single remedy to all the challenges facing our communities. But the work of Main Street Alabama, and the commitment of community partners, including Regions Bank and many others, represent one important component of long-term recovery: people coming together united in their vision to create brighter days ahead.

(Courtesy of Regions Bank’s Doing More Today)

11 months ago

6 suggestions to protect yourself from stimulus check scams

(Pixabay, YHN)

Congress moved quickly to help the American public with a $2 trillion stimulus bill.

Unfortunately, fraud experts believe scammers will move just as quickly to try to take your share away. The key is to arm yourself with information.

“No doubt, there will be fake messages that will make countless claims,” said Don White, head of Corporate Security at Regions Bank. “Scammers may text, email or call you, asking for your banking information or claiming they can process your stimulus payment for you. Don’t take the bait. Do not, under any circumstance, give away your personal information via text, email or phone to someone you do not know who is soliciting you.”

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The bipartisan legislation to boost the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic includes economic relief for American taxpayers in the form of stimulus checks. Each eligible adult will receive up to $1,200, based on gross income.

According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the checks could go out in the next two weeks, although there are still questions as to how the money will be distributed. For example, someone who received a refund on 2019 taxes via the Automated Clearing House (ACH) could receive a direct deposit.

Meanwhile, scammers are ready to take advantage by reaching out and saying your account information is needed, or that you can have their relief check for a small fee.

To avoid fraud, consider these suggestions:

1. Hang up. Don’t reply. The IRS, Treasury Department or other government agencies will not call, email or text message people to collect account information, Social Security numbers or credit card information. Anyone who does is likely a scammer, White said.

2. Do not pay anyone offering to get your stimulus funds early or sell you additional stimulus checks. This is a promise that they will not be able to fulfill.

3. Enroll in your bank’s or credit card company’s online and mobile applications to monitor your account activity frequently, looking for suspicious activity.

4. Avoid clicking on unknown links, which may expose you to viruses or malware.

5. While online, verify the legitimacy of websites you visit.

– Turn on browser tools, which can help identify fraudulent websites.

– Ensure the websites are secure and encrypted with HTTPS.

– Look for links that are broken or take you away from the original website.

– Shop through websites you know and trust.

6. As always, slow down, verify, and verify again the legitimacy of financial transactions before approving. Look for changes to account numbers, phone numbers, email addresses or other identifying information.

“We are seeing a spike in fraud activity during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jon Kucharski, Fraud Strategy Manager at Regions. “No matter what this payment winds up being, only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. Just keep in mind, these unusual times require patience and a little extra vigilance to keep your finances safe.”

(Courtesy of Regions)

11 months ago

Keeping your finances and identity safe: 6 common-sense tips to stop fraud

(Pixabay, YHN)

The voice on the other end announces they are from the “Coronavirus Response Center.” What do you do?

Hang up.

Scammers are trying to take advantage of people during the COVID-19 outbreak with a new wave of fraudulent schemes that involve telephone calls and phony emails (phishing), according to the FBI and the Secret Service. And the one common goal is to part you or your business from your money.

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“The coronavirus is a prime opportunity for enterprising criminals because it plays on one of the basic human conditions: fear,” the Secret Service said in a MarketWatch story. “Fear can cause normally scrupulous individuals to let their guard down and fall victim to social engineering scams, phishing scams, nondelivery scams, and auction fraud scams.”

While the Secret Service is tasked with protecting the President, the agency also fights financial crimes.

Regions works with all law enforcement to protect customers from the latest schemes, which take advantage of unique situations.

“Fraudsters have begun leveraging concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19) to target businesses and individuals,” said Jeffrey Taylor, head of Commercial Fraud Forensics for Regions. “These parties send emails that appear to come from the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), or other reputable health organizations.”

The emails may include links to what they claim are tips for safety measures, prevention or updates. In reality, the links may either route the unsuspecting recipient to a website controlled by the fraudsters or install malware on the user’s computer. Once the malware is installed, the fraudster may be able to take control of the computer or capture passwords or other credentials used to access secure sites.

“Business email compromise continues to be the most common attack used by fraudsters,” Taylor added. “Thoroughly investigate the email address of the sender and call a number known to you to verify any change in payment terms.”

Similarly, fraudulent phone calls are meant to gain your trust and information.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offers consumers more common-sense advice:

  • Government agencies will never call or text you unsolicited and demand immediate payment to avoid arrest or other legal action.
  • Government agencies will never ask you to pay fines or fees with retail gift cards, prepaid debit cards, wire transfers, internet currency, or by mailing cash; and
  • If you receive these calls or texts, hang up or ignore them, and talk to friends and family to make sure they do the same.

Knowledge and awareness are powerful defenses against cybercrime. For more fraud prevention tips and information, visit Regions’ Fraud Prevention Resources.

(Courtesy of Regions)

1 year ago

UAB forensics team DarkTower leaves criminals with nowhere to hide

UAB student Sarah Newton and DarkTower professionals Gary Warner and Heather McCalley stand next to a map showing some of the jobs graduates from the university’s computer forensics department have landed in recent years. (Contributed)

A portrait of Sherlock Holmes peers down as Sarah Newton works in the cyber forensics lab. The artwork is apropos. Because, as the world’s greatest fictional detective looks on, Newton, a student from outside Atlanta, is wrapping up her latest investigation.

A digital forensics major, Newton is part of the DarkTower team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Composed of undergrads and graduate students alike – and overseen by professionals with vast experience – the team assists with investigations for Fortune 500 companies and law enforcement agencies across the globe. Students routinely work 20 hours or more a week on investigations, supplementing their academics with real-world experience.

On Newton’s screen is a maze of a map covering nearly the entire nation. As she zooms in, hundreds of connections emerge – people, locations and businesses. It’s all part of a weeks-long inquiry into a network of massage parlors that Newton linked together through news articles, online advertisements, social media posts and public records, including business licenses and arrest records. The report she put together documents each connection in stark detail and totals more than 400 pages.

“Whenever I find something good, I get really excited and want to dig in right away just to see where it ends up,” Newton said.

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In this case, all trails pointed to a business professional from out of state who’s accused of staffing massage parlors across the Southeast with victims of human trafficking, most of whom are Chinese immigrants. This hard work also pays off for Regions Bank, a DarkTower client. The bank works with Gary Warner, a UAB instructor and the Director of Threat Intelligence for DarkTower, to help ensure the company doesn’t open accounts for businesses that might look legitimate on the surface, but instead are part of criminal enterprises.

“This is Regions being proactive,” said Jim Phillips, Compliance Intelligence Officer at Regions. “To be honest, there’s no one that can provide this intel like DarkTower can.”

Regions has made fighting human trafficking a priority, working with national, state and local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits to fight a heinous crime that robs victims of their innocence and freedoms.

But as the investigations by Newton and the DarkTower team show, human trafficking is part of a deeper criminal culture.

“Human trafficking is bad enough, and the people involved in these crimes are usually involved in other financial crimes that impact not only Regions, but its customers,” Warner said. “They’re also involved in violent crimes. We can help protect the bank while also providing a template for a prosecutor to get these people off the streets.”

Newton turned down the prestigious Zell Miller Scholarship to any four-year college in Georgia to attend UAB. She made the decision after attending a Warner-led computer camp at the Birmingham campus prior to her senior year in high school.

“She gave up a full scholarship to come here because she was excited about computer forensics,” Warner said. “I told her she’d have the opportunity to do things here she couldn’t do anywhere else.”

Three semesters into her college career, Newton has investigated crimes across the globe – all from the UAB lab overlooking the football practice field. She has spent time embedded with the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force. And she’s the youngest member of the Birmingham chapter of InfraGard, an FBI-sponsored, public/private intelligence-sharing network created to protect the United States from hostile acts.

Warner founded the Birmingham chapter of InfraGard. The head of UAB’s computer forensics research lab, he is recognized internationally for his expertise on intelligence operations focused on malware, financial cybercrimes, online fraud and social media use of criminals, including terrorists.

DarkTower Director of Investigations Heather McCalley earned an economics degree at Duke and had a successful career in banking before getting a graduate degree in computer science and a certificate in computer forensics under Warner at UAB. Before joining the DarkTower team, she had a decade of intelligence and cybersecurity leadership in private industry.

“Back when we first started out, Gary would give me a floppy disk, filled with websites, and say, ‘See if they’re phishing sites,’” McCalley said of her experience as a grad student.

The technology has advanced, and so has the criminal activity. But the intelligence gathering remains based on old-fashioned detective work.

On a big screen in a conference room, Warner, McCalley and Newton review recent investigations from around the world.

A  global scammer lives like royalty thanks to millions of dollars stolen from financial institutions in the U.S. and Europe. He routinely shares his love for the high life – while publicly feuding with a rival scammer online.

A criminal gang based in Memphis runs escorts across the region out of a suburban house next to a daycare center. Cellphone numbers in ads across the South, promoting services, all lead back to the group that traffics women from one city to the next.

In Cairo, ads for nannies to serve wealthy families in the Middle East lure girls from small African villages with promises of grand lifestyles, stable earnings and safe lives. But once the girls arrive, their passports are seized and all income earned is taken away. While many people automatically think “sex trafficking,” those at risk are actually labor trafficking victims — isolated by language barriers and remote work locations, and deprived of identity or travel paperwork.

Typically, everything DarkTower needs to link the crimes and the criminals is available on the web, if you know where to look. That’s why some of the world’s biggest companies – and a number of international banks – reach out to Birmingham for help.

“Regions is the only bank of its size, that I’m aware of, focusing on human trafficking ,” Warner said. “The global banks are all over it, but they have more people in cybercrime departments than smaller banks have tellers. Regions is also the only bank we work with that has a liaison assigned specifically to work with us.”

That liason is a full-time Corporate Security Investigator, with a long career in law enforcement and computer forensics. He reports to Don White, head of Corporate Security, and works closely with Phillips.

A former federal prosecutor, Phillips said using DarkTower is a common-sense move for Regions.

“Having an outside, third-party partner brings a different perspective,” Phillips said. “DarkTower has expertise from an international standpoint and a massive database that no bank has. They know what they’re doing, they’re thorough and they’re fast. And they help us protect our customers.”

This story originally appeared on Regions Bank’s Doing More Today website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

ESPN’s Greg McElroy, Laura Rutledge lift spirits during visit to Children’s of Alabama

(Children's Hospital of Alabama/Contributed)

Lindy Hydrick was looking forward to a rare lazy Sunday, a chance to recharge, when she got the call every parent fears.

“My mom called,” Hydrick recounted. “She said, ‘Get in the car. Get to Birmingham. Ty’s been in a crash, and they’re taking him there in a helicopter now.’”

Her 14-year-old son, Ty, was in a car that crashed into a tree near their hometown of Berry, a community more than an hour out of Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city. Both legs were broken, and Ty’s ankles were crushed. The injuries were devastating for anyone, but especially for Ty, a budding three-sport high school athlete.

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Just weeks earlier, Lindy had lost her grandmother. Now, she was afraid she’d lose her youngest son. Ty had to be airlifted to Children’s of Alabama, one of the nation’s leading pediatric hospitals, for emergency surgery.

Forty-eight hours later, after 12 hours of surgery, Lindy had a chance to catch her breath. But only for a moment. Ty had two visitors who wanted to meet him: former University of Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy and ESPN/SEC Network personality Laura Rutledge.

For Ty, a Crimson Tide fan, meeting the duo became an instant highlight. McElroy led Alabama to the 2009 national title, and Rutledge is a fixture across ESPN platforms, including hosting the Saturday pregame show SEC Nation.

Rutledge, a University of Florida graduate, wasted no time talking Crimson Tide football with young Ty and seeing his eyes light up.

For both Rutledge and McElroy, the visit to Children’s of Alabama is an annual rite of passage leading into the Regions TraditionChildren’s is the major benefactor for the tournament on the PGA TOUR Championsschedule.

“This is incredibly important to me,” Rutledge said of the opportunity to visit patients and families. “Every time you leave here, you feel they’ve given you far more than you can ever give them in return.”

Before Sunday, the Hydricks knew little about Children’s of Alabama. Now, Lindy couldn’t imagine life without the doctors, nurses and personnel.

“The care here is unbelievable,” she said. “The love is felt throughout this hospital.”
And the best news of all? Doctors believe Ty has already begun to mend. “They told us he’ll be walking in two months,” Lindy added. “That’s a miracle.”

Ty’s recovery took an immediate upturn with Tuesday’s visit, Lindy said.

“Ty’s always been a huge Alabama fan, so meeting Greg is really big. He’s a role model to my child. And, being a mom, I’m especially appreciative that they give of their time like this.”

Of course, Ty wanted to talk football. McElroy, who has a show on the SEC Network and serves ESPN as a college football analyst, was happy to talk back.

“He started talking about the Clemson game,” McElroy said, referring to Alabama’s painful National Championship loss in January. “So I said, ‘Let’s change the subject. Let’s talk about how the team looks this year.’”

McElroy also gave him advice, telling him the accident would not define him.

“There are people outside this hospital, outside of Birmingham, who care about you,” McElroy said. “I’d never met Ty, but I care, Laura cares. And everyone at Children’s cares.

“Just do what you’re told, tackle rehab, and you’ll be back faster than you realized. Attitude is the biggest thing.”

This story first ran on the Regions news site doing more today.

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)