Keeping Your Data Safe in Times of Crisis


April 13, 2020

Crises and upheaval have a way of bringing out the very best in people. But also, sadly, the very worst. Which is why, during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, Schwab’s highest priority remains the same: protecting the security of the information and the assets of our clients.

A key part of preparation means being aware of schemes and tactics fraudsters are employing during this global pandemic. Even during a time of need by so many impacted individuals, scammers have deployed several methods intended to trick people into sending money, disclosing personal information and downloading malicious software (malware).

Johnson quote

“In times where we’d like to focus only on our physical safety and the safety of our family and friends, we must also stay alert for bad actors that want to harm us financially.”

D.J. Johnson, head of Schwab’s Financial Crimes Risk Management organization.
D.J. Johnson, head of Schwab’s Financial Crimes Risk Management organization


Awareness is key. Understanding the tactics that fraudsters use to try to steal your information is of utmost importance.

Fake websites

Understandably, people are turning to the internet for up-to-date information about the virus and to make purchases of goods that either can’t be found in stores or as an alternative to shopping in person.

To take advantage of this, fraudsters have set up websites to offer goods or services, such as protective gear (gloves and face masks), cleaning products, vaccines, testing kits and home-delivery services. They then use these sites to collect payment and personal information with no intention of delivering the goods or services.

As users visit the sites or click on links within webpages, user names, passwords, credit card numbers, browsing histories and other sensitive information are exposed. This data is used by the attackers or sold to other criminals on the dark web.


  • Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or, or contact your physician for information regarding COVID-19.

  • Avoid visiting pages offering cures or vaccines.

  • Go directly to websites using trusted URLs.

  • Avoid using phone numbers for companies found through general searches.

  • Read site reviews regarding product delivery and purchases. The reviews may indicate if a site is selling counterfeit products.


Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails and texts purporting to be from reputable sources to persuade individuals to reveal personal information, such as login credentials. Some examples of how fraudsters are using phishing emails and text messages related to the pandemic include:

  • Urgent news
  • Charitable donations
  • Financial relief (e.g., economic stimulus checks)
  • Fake cures, vaccines and testing kits
  • Airline carrier refunds


  • Be suspicious of any email or text that requests your personal information.

  • Hover over links to check validity, or visit websites directly through your internet browser before logging in or accessing material.

  • Ensure a website is secure before entering personal information.

  • Do not click or download suspicious or unknown attachments, and be wary of attachments even from people you know.


Impersonation fraud schemes are used by imposters to obtain personal information and request fraudulent payments. The scam may begin with a phone call, email, text or other form of communication.

  • Fraudsters are employing pandemic-related robocalls, claiming to be associated with charities, insurance companies or businesses offering products or cures. Some calls even offer cleaning services for your home.
  • Scammers, often purporting to be doctors, military personnel or random travelers, also reach out, claiming to be stuck in another country due to COVID-19 and request money to travel home.
  • Imposters may pretend to be government officials and try to capitalize on the extended tax-filing date and proposed economic stimulus checks.


    • Avoid answering calls from unknown numbers.

    • Hang up if you do answer a call that is unusual. Don’t press any buttons because this could lead to more calls.

    • Don’t supply personal, account or payment information, especially if you feel you're being pressured.

    • Never send money in response to a robocall or social media message.

Other Impacts

The IRS has extended the federal income tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020, as a result of COVID-19. This gives taxpayers additional time to prepare and file returns. Tax scams generally increase during tax season, including schemes where criminals file fraudulent returns to obtain a refund. If possible, file sooner than later.

Work-at-home scams will likely be on the rise as scammers extend non-existent job opportunities to those seeking employment. Never pay up-front money for an opportunity and be wary of overpayment schemes.

Strengthen your security

Apply security features to your Schwab accounts as well as accounts at other financial institutions. Increasing security can help guard against fraud attempts or make it more challenging for criminals to access accounts.

What can you do to be proactive?

  • Use two-factor verification, when available. This method requires a unique code each time you access your accounts.

  • Set up activity alerts. Real-time alerts notify you of activity and other changes affecting your account. Although you want to be cautious with all email and text messages, activity alerts are a reliable method to catch unauthorized activity in your accounts.

  • Ensure your computer systems, online browsers and mobile devices are up-to-date with the most recent data security and intrusion software protections.

If you suspect you’ve been the victim of any form of fraud or identity theft, notify your financial institution immediately, as well as other places you do business. Notify creditors and credit bureaus, report the crime to local police and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).


For additional security measures and steps you can take to safeguard personal information and assets, visit SchwabSafe. Read our guides for tips on avoiding scams and phishing attacks to stay aware and secure.