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How to Spot QR Code Scams and Fight Fraud

You’ve probably seen QR codes when visiting your favorite restaurants and stores. Known as “quick response” codes, these handy collections of dots and squares have made it easier to access information and complete transactions.

However, fraudsters are finding ways to turn this technology against you. Today we’ll discuss QR code scams and how you can guard against them.

How QR Codes Can Damage Your Security

It’s completely natural to want to check out a QR code if you’re looking for direct access to information. After all, they are a quick and convenient means to access things like restaurant menus, payment portals, and similar items.

A plain truth of the matter, though, is scammers know that many people are obsessed with convenience. Thieves latch onto quick and effortless ways to steal sensitive information.

Malicious QR codes are one of the latest developments in a scammer’s arsenal of tricks. There are many ways that a malicious QR code can compromise your identity and put your finances at risk. Some of these dangers include:

  • Installing malware on your mobile device
  • Stealing login credentials
  • Taking your bank or credit card information
  • Hijacking your phone to orchestrate more scams

Furthermore, scammers have incorporated fake QR codes into other scams, like phishing attempts through email. Legitimate codes can make life easier. However, it is another facet of cybersecurity you must know in order to protect your identity.

Deconstructing the QR Code

While a QR code may look like a new bit of technology, it’s been around for decades. It rose in use at the height of the coronavirus pandemic as a way to encourage contactless interactions and minimize the spread of germs. Now, QR codes are becoming popular for paperless initiatives and payment processing.

For the most part, a QR code interaction goes like this:

  1. Seeing the QR code. A sign or caption tells you to scan it to see a menu, download an app, or to initiate a transaction.
  2. Scanning the QR code. Users typically use their phone’s camera to “capture” the code so the device can read it.
  3. Confirmation from the device. The device then asks the user if they would like to go to the URL it received from the code.
  4. Get taken to the destination. After the user confirms, the device will take the user to the destination. It could be the page on a website, open an app, or take you somewhere to download something.

Do these steps look familiar to you? If you’ve been using a computer for long, then it should! Using a QR code is a lot like clicking on links to get from one web page to another. It’s a refreshed take on a very established practice.

If you know how to spot email scams, then what you’ve learned also applies now. Malicious QR codes are a relative of “phishing,” a scam that tries to trick users into completing a transaction.

Protecting Against a QR Code Attack

As we’ve covered previously, it is possible to stop many scams in their tracks with a little patience and the ability to say “no.” Countering malicious QR codes works in much the same way. Here are our recommendations that will bolster your cybersecurity know-how:

  • Be observant when confirming the link. Your QR code scanner should let you verify your destination. If your phone wants to take you to a suspicious website or asks to download something, then exercise caution.


  • Check where you found the QR code. Many businesses use QR codes to provide information to visitors. Confirm with the staff if their establishment uses QR codes, and verify where such codes should lead.


  • Look out for fakes. One thing scammers love to do is print out their own codes on a sticker to place on top of a legitimate one. Again, be observant and confirm where your device wants to take you.


  • Exercise proper “trigger discipline.” Just because a QR code is there doesn’t mean you should scan it! If a QR code looks out of place or seems to have been tampered with, leave it alone.


  • Ask for help. Establishments should have a definite program in place if they utilize QR codes. If you are suspicious of a QR code, ask for an employee on-site to verify its legitimacy and have them walk you through the steps.

What To Do if You’ve Been Involved in a QR Code Scam

If you think your accounts have been compromised after scanning a QR code, it’s important to take action as quickly as possible.

  1. First, secure your accounts. If you’ve entered information into a shady website, change the login credentials that you used immediately. Also, make sure you have multi-factor authentication enabled on your accounts.


  2. Next, keep an eye on your finances. Keep tabs on any bank accounts or credit cards involved in a suspicious transaction. Notify your financial institution about the situation, too. They can help you with the next steps to secure your finances.


  3. Report fraud. The Federal Trade Commission has a website where you can report fraud. Your report can help authorities investigate these instances and protect your community from scams.

Technology can help and harm. By remaining vigilant, you can protect yourself and others from scams. For more information on scams and how to prevent them, visit the First Florida Scam And Fraud Education (S.A.F.E.) page.


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