What are QR codes?

It seems like lately Quick Response codes (QR Codes) have been popping up everywhere. They’re a type of barcode that consist of many pixel-shaped blocks and are readable by mobile devices such as smartphones. Establishments such as restaurants, medical offices, retail stores, etc. have benefited from this contactless form of sharing information, such as URLs and links to app downloads. As a result of the measures many had to take due to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses from all over the world have been relying on QR codes more than ever. This unfortunately, has opened the door for bad actors to tamper with QR codes, trying to steal information from unsuspecting individuals.


How does the scam work?

Fraudsters aim to trick unsuspecting victims into providing banking or other personal information after scanning a malicious QR code. And since almost everyone nowadays is in possession of a smartphone, it makes the majority of people vulnerable to these types of scams.

The city of Austin, TX for instance, experienced a “pay to park” scam, where fraudsters left maliciously designed QR codes on parking meters, which led unsuspecting victims to a bogus website form, deviously crafted to collect ‘payment’ for parking.


How can I avoid falling victim to QR Code fraud?

And unfortunately, security software cannot always be helpful when dealing with these types of scams, so here are some tips to avoid getting scammed:

  • Be cautious when scanning a QR code, verify that it isn’t a sticker placed over another QR code.
  • Be vigilant of QR codes placed in suspect areas (e.g., telephone post, bus stop shelters, etc.)
  • Whenever you do scan a QR code, observe the destination URL and verify that it’s from a legitimate source, and not a phishing site. Avoid QR codes from unknown sources.
  • Avoid inputting personal information such as payment info into a website or form after scanning a QR code.
  • Stay away from QR code scanning apps… most smartphone cameras already have QR code scanning capabilities.