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July 26, 2022 Security

QR Code Scams Are On the Rise

Scammers never take a break from dreaming up new ways to con people out of their money. Recently, they’ve been hijacking QR codes to pull scams on innocent victims. Here’s all you need to know about QR code scams and how to avoid them.

What’s A QR Code?

Before we can explore the details of these scams, let’s understand what a QR code is and how one works. A QR code is an acronym for “Quick Response code” and is a square barcode scanned using a smartphone.

It leads directly to a website or app. Businesses use QR codes for many reasons, from posting online menus to scanning coupons to processing payments. In the no-touch era following the coronavirus lockdowns, QR codes are more ubiquitous than ever.

Ironically, QR codes should help prevent fraud since they take the user directly to the desired site. This leaves no room for misspellings or scammers to lure victims to a bogus website with a URL similar to the legitimate website.

Unfortunately, scammers have also found a way to weaponize QR codes. The technology necessary to create a QR code is not accessible to anyone, making QR code scams easy to pull off and difficult to identify.

How QR Code Scams Plays Out

The QR code scammer will replace a legitimate QR code with their own code. A target will then scan the code and make a payment for a transaction.

Unfortunately, the target has sent their money directly to the scammer. It has not made a payment for the transaction as they believe they have.

In a recent QR code scam, fraudsters replaced dozens of QR codes on public parking meters in San Antonio, Texas, with their own codes. Drivers seeking to pay the meter costs scanned these codes and sent their payments to scammers.

To make matters worse, many victims unknowingly shared access to their phones with scammers.

This sets themselves up for future scams as the criminals use the information on the phone to pull off additional schemes.

How To Avoid QR Code Scams

QR code scams can be challenging to recognize. The FBI advises against downloading an app from a QR code or a QR code scanner app.

However, there are ways to keep yourself safe from these scams.

Check the source of the QR code and the URL the code directs you to for common signs of a secure site. When scanning a QR code, it’s a good idea to treat the link like any other email or text message.

Proceed with caution and practice online safety measures as any other online transaction.

Those include a lock icon, an “s” after the “http,” and whether the URL matches the URL of the intended site destination.

Leave it if the webpage or app the code sends you seems suspicious. You can access the payment portal you need by visiting the app or website on your own.

When using a QR code, look for these red flags that can indicate a possible scam:

  • The URL is different from the home site.
  • The site or app the code directs you to is full of typos.
  • The QR code is posted on a public sign or notice that seems to be tampered with.

Knowing how to recognize a QR code scam can help prevent you from falling victim to this emerging and quickly growing scheme.

If You Were Scammed

As quickly as the scams come around, they are easily taken down. If you were scammed, report to the FTC as soon as you can!

If the fraud also hit your WeStreet debit or credit card, report it to our Fraud Center, and we will help you through the process.

Stay alert when using a QR code, and stay safe!