beware of fraudulent QR codes

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Businesses use QR codes to direct consumers to their apps, track packages, or view menus. But because these codes cannot be read by the human eye, they have become a way for crooks to conceal malicious links. As QR codes become more and more popular, BBB Scam Tracker is seeing more and more reports of scammers using them to deceive consumers.

How the scam works

You receive an e-mail, direct message on social media, text, leaflet or letter containing 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 directs you to a phishing website, where you are asked to enter your personal information or login credentials for the crooks to steal. Other times, crooks use QR codes to automatically launch payment apps or track a malicious social network account.

These scams differ greatly, but they all have one thing in common. The crooks hope you scan the code right away, without taking a closer look. QR codes often appear to be from legitimate sources, so make sure any matches are legitimate before scanning the code.

For example, a victim told BBB Scam Tracker that she received a fraudulent letter regarding the student loan consolidation. It contained a QR code that appeared to link to the official Studentaid.gov site. The QR code helped the program, which was a fraud, to appear official.

Additionally, Bitcoin addresses are often sent via QR codes, which makes QR codes a common feature in cryptocurrency scams. A consumer who was contacted by a ‘binary and forex trader’ via Instagram about an investment opportunity said: ‘after paying the withdrawal fee through the Bitcoin machine and sending it to the QR code that m ‘was provided, I received another email saying I needed to pay a transfer fee. It was then that I realized that something was wrong.

How to avoid QR scams

  • If someone you know sends you a QR code, also confirm before scanning it. Whether you get a text from a friend or a social media message from your coworker, contact that person directly before scanning 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, do not scan the QR code, even if it promises you interesting gifts or investment opportunities.
  • Check the source. If a QR code appears to be from a trusted source, it’s wise to check it out. If correspondence appears to be from a government agency, call or visit their official website to confirm.
  • Beware of short links. If a shortened URL link appears when you scan a QR code, understand that you cannot know where the code is taking you. This could hide a malicious URL.
  • Beware of advertising material that has been tampered with. Some scammers try to mislead consumers by modifying legitimate commercial advertisements by placing stickers or the QR code. Keep an eye out for signs of tampering.
  • Install a QR scanner with additional security. Some antivirus companies have QR scanner apps that check the security of a scanned link before opening it. They can identify phishing scams, forced app downloads, and other dangerous links.

Do you spot a business or an offer that looks like an illegal scheme or fraud? Tell us about it. Help us investigate and warn others by reporting what you know.

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