Companies use Quick Response (QR) Codes to point consumers to their apps, track packages, or view menus. But because these codes can’t be read by the human eye, they have become a new way for scammers to disguise malicious links. As QR codes grow in usage, BBB Scam Tracker is seeing more reports of con artists using them to mislead consumers.
“Something to always keep in mind,” said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas, “Is that whenever new technology grows in popularity, scam artists will capitalize on the trend.”
How the Scam Works
You receive an email, a direct message on social media, a text message, a flyer, or a piece of mail that includes a QR code. You are supposed to scan the code with your phone’s camera, and it will open a link. In some scams, the QR code takes you to a phishing website, where you are prompted to enter your personal information or login credentials for scammers to steal. Other times, con artists use QR codes to automatically launch payment apps or follow a malicious social media account.
These scams differ greatly, but they all have one thing in common. Scammers hope you will scan the code right away, without taking a closer look. QR codes often appear to come from legitimate sources, so make sure any correspondence is legitimate before you scan the code.
How to Avoid QR Scams
If someone you know sends you a QR code, also confirm before scanning it. Whether you receive a text message from a friend or a message on social media from your workmate, contact that person directly before you scan the QR code to make sure they haven’t been hacked.
Don’t open links from strangers. If you receive an unsolicited message from a stranger, don’t scan the QR code, even if they promise you exciting gifts or investment opportunities.
Verify the source. If a QR code appears to come from a reputable source, it’s wise to double check. If the correspondence appears to come from a government agency, call or visit their official website to confirm.
Be wary of short links. If a URL-shortened link appears when you scan a QR code, understand that you can’t know where the code is directing you. It could be hiding a malicious URL.
Watch out for advertising materials that have been tampered with. Some scammers attempt to mislead consumers by altering legitimate business ads by placing stickers over the QR code. Keep an eye out for signs of tampering.
Install a QR scanner with added security. Some antivirus companies have QR scanner apps that check the safety of a scanned link before you open it. They can identify phishing scams, forced app downloads, and other dangerous links.
For More Information
To learn more about protecting your information online, read BBB’s tips on data privacy and cyber security.
If you’ve been the victim of a QR scam, report on BBB Scam Tracker. Your report can help educate and protect your fellow consumers.
About BBB: BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Most BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information. There are over 100 local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central East Texas, which was founded in 1985 and serves 19 counties.