Just when you think you’ve heard it all about scams, here comes another one. Watch out for dangerous QR codes! Here’s why.
What Is a QR Code
According to Wikipedia, “A QR code (abbreviated from Quick Response code) is a type of matrix barcode (or two-dimensional barcode invented in 1994 by the Japanese automotive company Denso Wave. A barcode is a machine-readable optical label that contains information about the item to which it is attached. In practice, QR codes often contain data for a locator, identifier, or tracker that points to a website or application. A QR code uses four standardized encoding modes (numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, and kanji) to store data efficiently; extensions may also be used.”
QR Scams Getting Worse
Even the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has something to say about the recent upswing in QR code scams. Here is how they say the scam works:
1. “These scams differ significantly, 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.
For example, one victim told BBB Scam Tracker that they received a fraudulent letter about student loan consolidation. It contained a QR code that appeared to link to the official Studentaid.gov website. The QR code helped the program, which was a fraud, appear official.
2. In addition, Bitcoin addresses are often sent via QR codes, which makes QR codes a common element in cryptocurrency scams. One consumer who was contacted by a “binary and forex trader” through Instagram about an investment opportunity said, “after I had paid the withdrawal fee through the Bitcoin machine and sent it to the QR code I was provided, I received another email saying I needed to pay a Cost of Transfer fee. This is when I figured out that something wasn’t right.”
Here is the bottom line. Computer security is vital. But it’s not just your computers you need to worry about. QR code dangers are very real, and you need to protect your computer and any device you use, especially your smartphones.
Protect Yourself Against QR Code Dangers
Data Doctors Gives You Red Flags
Recently, Data Doctors provided Arizonans with a list of red flags they can use to avoid dangerous QR codes. Let’s look at them now.
1. “If you randomly run across a QR code while you’re out and about, especially those telling you that you could win something, be very cautious. Criminals are using the same social engineering techniques that have proven effective in email scams.
2. Receiving QR codes via email, text, or a social media post should also be viewed suspiciously as the actual weblink could have been used in these instances.
3. Even if you get a printed item in the mail with a QR code, using it without doing your homework can be dangerous.”
Is There Anything Else You Can Do
When I first heard on the news about dangerous QR codes, I was curious if there is anything I (and you) can do to avoid QR code scams. Fortunately, the BBB has a few things that will help you out. Listed below are what they recommend:
- “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 or 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.”
Scams are all around us. Every day I’m alerted to new and dangerous scams on the news. The Attorney General of Texas posted a helpful post that lists out different types of scams and frauds online. I thought it would be beneficial to list them here:
- Advance Fee Scams
- Tech Support Scams
- Emergency Scams
- IRS or Government Imposter Scams
- Foreign Money Exchange Scams
- Counterfeit Cashier’s Checks
- Bogus Debts
- Home Repair Scams
- Business Opportunities or Employment Scams
- Shopping Sprees
Now we get to add one more to the above list – dangerous QR codes. We recommend that you watch what you are doing and be careful whenever working with your electronic devices. Secure your websites and digital devices now or face the outcome. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is, and you should avoid it.