BBB warns of scams using fake QR codes

Published: Aug. 15, 2021 at 1:24 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - A growing number of businesses are using Quick Response codes - also known as QR codes - which can be scanned with a smartphone to help customers, but consumer experts warn the technology is also being used by scammers.

“QR codes or quick response codes have lots of legitimate reasons, especially during the pandemic, we saw a rise in their popularity. People can use them to scan a restaurant menu, or contactless payments, so there are a lot of great purposes and uses for QR codes. But, as we have seen in the past, scammers take advantage of these new pieces of technology and use them to deceive consumers,” said Susan Bach of the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin.

BBB officials say at least one person who reported being scammed through the BBB Scam Tracker website say they received a letter in the mail with a QR code. However, the agency says scammers may also send you an e-mail, a direct message on social media, a text message, a flyer, or a piece of mail that includes a QR code. It then tells you to scan the code with your phone’s camera, and it will open a link.

In addition, the BBB says some scams will have the QR code take you to a phishing website, where you’re then told to enter your personal information or login credentials for scammers to steal.

There have also been instances of con artists using QR codes to automatically launch payment apps, or to follow a malicious social media account.

“Yes, we have seen some examples on our scam tracker portal, where people received a letter in the mail with a QR code with an offer to help her consolidate her student load debts. It looked official, like it was from the Department of Education, but really, it was a letter from a scammer trying to get her to prepay money to consolidate that and as we know, you shouldn’t have to pay to consolidate your student loan debts,” said Bach.

So, what can you do to avoid being scammed by a QR code?

“The problem is QR codes aren’t really readable by the human eye, so scammers are really using these to direct people to malicious websites, or download malware, or phishing for their personal information. So, you really have to be wary before clicking on a QR code, or allowing your phone camera to scan it,” said Bach. “If it appears or pretending to be from a legitimate site, you really want to verify the source, so go to the government website that it appears to be coming from to verify. There are apps you can use that will scan that QR code so you can see where it will redirect you to, that would be a really great idea, so you can avoid being misled to a fraudulent site. But really, just avoid clicking on QR codes from sources that send it to you unsolicited. Don’t click on QR codes in social media, websites, or letters or anything from an unsolicited or a strange source. I think that would be wise. You just want to make sure that you’re not clicking on any kind of malicious link, or a link that will take you to a phishing website, things like that.”

If you believe you’ve been a victim of a QR scam, CLICK HERE to report it to the BBB scam tracker.

Other tips to avoid QR scams:

  • If someone you know sends you a QR code, confirm before scanning it
  • Don’t open links from strangers
  • Verify the source
  • Be wary of short links
  • Watch out for advertising materials that have been tampered with
  • Install a QR scanner with added security

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