Keeping your data safe in times of crisis


June 10, 2020

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

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 by this pandemic, scammers have deployed several methods intended to trick individuals into sending money, disclosing personal information or 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 COVID-19 and to make purchases of goods that either cannot be found in stores or as an alternative to shopping in person.

To take advantage of this, fraudsters 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 and services.

As users visit the sites or click on links within the 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 by entering the trusted URL address into your browser.

  • 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-impact, “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 by entering a known URL address into 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.
  • Financial Institutions are also being impersonated by callers and some schemes are complex schemes involving fake computer alerts or text messages.


  • 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.

Senior considerations

Our elderly population is not only considered higher-risk due to complications with the virus, but is also at higher risk of being targeting by schemers. As the senior population is confronted with challenging decisions, whether it be visiting stores for groceries or isolating themselves from loved ones, criminals can prey on vulnerability. As illustrated above, impersonators can come in all forms, but we want to highlight some other schemes that can be more-targeted at this population:

Emergency scams:

  • Specifically, we see this manifest into a fraudster posing as a family member requesting funds. During the pandemic it can vary from being in the hospital and needing money for care, or even just supplies to “stay afloat.”

Social Security:

  • Scammers pose as someone from the Social Security Administration requesting payment or personal information to prevent their benefits from being suspended or reduced due to COVID-19.

Investment scams:

  • Fraudsters promote investments that claim to prevent, detect or provide a cure for COVID-19. Often these investments are tied to microcap stocks that a particularly vulnerable to fraud schemes, including COVID-19 related.

Especially during these times, it’s important to stay connected. Added isolation can increase one’s vulnerability to falling victim to a scam, so now, more than ever, stay informed to help detect signs of fraud.


  • Consult with family members and friends prior to acting on a request for funds.

  • The Social Security Administration is not suspending benefits and will never request you to pay to receive them.

  • Do extra due diligence when making investment choices. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Other Impacts

The IRS has extended the tax-filing deadline to July 15, 2020, as a result of COVID-19, giving 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 money upfront 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.

Stay aware and secure. Remember, Schwab is here for you. If you need to discuss concerns or have questions regarding your account and online security, contact your Schwab Financial Consultant or call 800-435-4000.