August 16, 2021
As QR codes get more popular, BBB.org/scamtracker is seeing more reports of con artists using them to mislead consumers. Companies use QR codes to point consumers to their apps, track packages, or view menus. “But because the human eye can’t read these codes, they have become a way for scammers to disguise malicious links,” says Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.
“You receive an email, a direct message on social media, a text message, a flyer, or snail mail that includes a QR code,” says Horton. “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,” adds Horton. “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.”
BBB tips on how to avoid QR code scams:
• If someone you know sends you a QR code, 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 ensure 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 directs 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 with fake QR codes on them. 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.
• If you’ve spotted a scam, report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Help protect your community by reporting scams or scam attempts (whether or not you’ve lost money), to help others to avoid falling victim to scams.
Before you do business with companies – please check BBB.org for ratings and reviews.
BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois is a nonprofit organization that has served both consumers and trustworthy businesses for over 95 years and is a part of the IABBB. We provide an extensive free database for checking business ratings and reviews before you buy, and protect consumers from scams. We educate and connect customers to businesses they can trust.