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.

3 weeks 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)

2 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)

2 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)

6 months 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)

1 year 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)