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Protecting Older Adults From COVID-19 Fraud

How to help older adults avoid fraudsters during the COVID-19 pandemic

Crises and upheaval have a way of bringing out the best — and, sometimes the worst — in society. That’s why, during this month focused on Elder Abuse Awareness and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to protect the online information of senior and vulnerable friends and loved ones.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has seen an increase in online extortion attempts as state governments have issued “stay-at-home” orders in response to the crisis. That comes at a time when The Better Business Bureau says fraudsters are targeting older populations in particular.

“Our elderly population are the wisest and most treasured members of our communities,” says DJ Johnson, Charles Schwab’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Risk Management. “However, they’re at a higher level of risk, not only due to possible physical complications with the virus, but also by being targeted by online scammers who have increased their efforts to defraud this susceptible group. As the senior population is confronted with challenging decisions, whether about visiting stores for groceries or isolating themselves from loved ones, criminals can prey on vulnerability from several fronts.”

Scammers have deployed several methods intended to trick individuals into sending money, disclosing personal information or downloading malicious software. At Schwab, teams are trained to pay attention to behavioral cues that might be the result of an attempted scam.

Awareness of scams targeting seniors is key

While fraud can come in many forms, here are a few specific schemes that can be more targeted at the senior population:

Emergency scams: Schemers misrepresent themselves as a family member requesting money for care, or requesting supplies to “stay afloat.”

Social Security: Scammers pose as someone from the Social Security Administration requesting payment or personal information to prevent benefits from being suspended or reduced.

Investment scams: Fraudsters promote investments in companies that claim to prevent, detect or provide a cure for COVID-19.

So now, more than ever, it’s important to stay informed in order to detect signs of fraud. Added isolation can increase vulnerability to falling victim to a scam.


  • Consult with family members and friends prior to acting on a request for funds.
  • Assign a trusted contact.
  • The Social Security Administration is not suspending benefits and will never request payment to receive them.
  • Perform extra due diligence when making investment choices. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Fake websites

People are turning to the internet for up-to-date information about COVID-19 and to purchase 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. This data is used by the fraudsters, or sold to other criminals on the dark web.


  • Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or coronavirus.gov, or contact your physician for information regarding COVID-19.
  • Avoid visiting pages offering cures or vaccines.
  • Go directly to websites by entering a trusted URL address into your browser.
  • Avoid using phone numbers for companies found through general web 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 or texts purporting to be from reputable sources to persuade individuals to reveal personal information, such as login credentials.


  • 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.
  • Help 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 impostors to obtain personal information and request fraudulent payments. The scam may begin with a phone call, email, computer pop-ups, text or other 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. Impostors 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’s 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.

For information on more ways to educate and protect yourself and your elderly family members from cybercrimes, visit schwab.com/schwabsafe/security-knowledge-center.

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