We talk a lot about various internet scams, and I think we're all familiar with the big ones. But did you know that you're also at risk with QR codes? This is how QR codes are being used to scam people.
What is a QR Code?
A QR (or Quick Response) code is basically a fancy barcode that stores a lot more information than your traditional barcodes that you see on products, and they're usually used with smartphones or other scanners. They've become much more popular over the last two years, with a lot of restaurants using QR codes so customers can pull up their menu on their phones (rather than have a physical menu that might carry germs). I've also recently seen QR codes used by some companies' billing statements so you can easily navigate to their payment website.
QR codes are increasingly popular with cryptocurrency users as a quick way to transfer payments as well.
How are QR Codes being used to scam people?
Because people are becoming more and more used to QR codes, scammers are trying to use these codes to get you to navigate to websites where they can steal your information, convince you to transfer money, or even put malware on your phone.
And they're pretty sophisticated.
In San Antonio, QR codes were placed on parking meters with an indication that users should scan the code to be taken to a site where they could pay for parking. By putting in their payment information, the scammers now had their financial information. (And they hadn't actually paid for parking, so could potentially get a parking ticket as well). If you are paying for parking using your phone, make sure that the site you are visiting is legitimate - check the URL to see if it's a valid parking site, and if you're unfamiliar with the city, do a quick search to make sure the city actually uses this type of payment for parking.
Another common QR code scam may come in the mail. You will get a postcard that appears to be from a legitimate company (such as Amazon.com) inviting you to be part of a survey or test a product. To learn more and sign up, you are provided a QR code where you're encouraged to enter your information, which may include banking information or other identifying information(ostensibly for payment).
How to Protect Yourself
So this is how QR codes are being used to scam people. But you can protect yourself. Here are some tips from the BBB.
- Confirm the code before scanning. Is it from someone you know? Is there a reason to be scanning this code?
- Be wary of short links. Most QR code scanners will pop up the website before taking you to it. Is it a shortened link or a full link to a website? Does it look legitimate? If not, don't click.
- Check for tampering. If you know you're somewhere where a QR code can be scanned, does it look like a new sticker has been applied atop an old one? Many businesses have started keeping their QR codes behind glass to make it much harder for scammers to replace theirs.
- And as always, don't open links from strangers.