Two people holding mobile devices showcasing QR codes, allowing them to scan and retrieve digital information effortlessly.

QR Code Scams: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

Quick Response (QR) codes have made a huge comeback after surging in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, these black-and-white squares offered businesses an appealing solution to create physical distance. Beyond allowing more sanitary customer interactions, these codes also offered convenience, flexibility, and accessibility — requiring no special equipment beyond a smartphone’s camera.

Although the QR code has declined in popularity in more formal dining settings, its ease remains a draw for cafes, bars, retail establishments, and event venues. They want to provide more efficient service and help their customers take quick action, whether visiting a website, adding a contact, or downloading an app.

Yet, as these enhanced barcodes become a staple in everyday life, users can’t take their safety for granted. They aren’t just practical for streamlining tasks and can render you more vulnerable to cybercrimes.

In this article, we explore how you can leverage QR codes while staying safe in our increasingly digital world. You will leave with actionable steps to protect your data, both as an individual and a business – so there’s no need to sacrifice security for convenience. 


What are QR Code Scams?

This past summer, people across North America learned more about the dangers of QR codes through the rise of parking meter scams involving malicious codes targeting drivers. Even the FBI issued an official warning about QR code tampering.

To use QR codes more mindfully, it’s critical to understand how these scams work and how they could potentially put your data and yourself at risk.

We typically use QR codes for one of the following purposes:

  • To consume information, such as reading a restaurant menu.
  • To share information, like having our tickets scanned at a concert or movie theater.
  • To take action, such as pairing our Disney+ account with our SmartTV to watch our new favorite show.

In any of these situations, we use these codes as a vessel to either transmit or receive data. As a result, we can unintentionally share sensitive information with unauthorized people, who may use the data unpermitted. Or we might allow bad actors to install malicious code onto our devices. In other cases, scanning a deceptive QR code can lead us to fraudulent websites.


Common Tactics Used by Scammers

Cybercriminals will leverage QR codes in various ways to achieve their objectives: make money and wreak havoc on you.

They may clone an actual QR code or create their own to lure in unsuspecting consumers, but most scams involve phishing, whether through an email, text message, social media post, or other format.

Scammers typically design a message that compels people to scan the code, whether luring through an “amazing” deal or sharing an “urgent” action.

Oftentimes, it will lead you to a professional-looking website so that people won’t hesitate to input sensitive data like a credit card or phone number. 

In the real physical world, they may place these QR codes in well-trafficked locations, such as on busy city streets, shopping malls, or bus stations. For example, they may tamper with a poster or product, covering the original code with a malicious one. 

These scams can be hard to detect since a scammer will typically try to mask their intentions, like using a URL shortener to hide the code’s true destination or a redirect system of multiple domains to make the path less clear. 


How QR Code Scams Can Affect You

With experts expecting QR code usage to increase by more than 19% between 2022 and 2025, QR code scams will likely rise simultaneously.

Unfortunately, phishing hacks like a QR code scam can have devastating consequences for you personally and your business. 

They can lead to identity theft and financial loss if hackers can access your data and devices to make unauthorized transactions or payments. Recent statistics show that it costs corporations, on average, $4.91 million per phishing attack – and that in 2022, losses surpassed $10.3 billion.

Beyond losing money, you may also need to deal with a compromised device and network, which may lead to critical data loss- disrupting your productivity.

Learn more about the potential consequences of a QR-code hack in our article on what hackers do with stolen data.


Safety Measures and Best Practices

Navigating these codes with caution and awareness is essential to minimize the risk of falling victim to a QR code attack. Here are some safety measures and best practices to help you stay safe:

  • Avoid scanning QR codes found in public places, especially if they are on labels and not the original document.
  • Only scan QR codes from trusted sources and verify the URL before scanning to ensure it leads to a legitimate destination. Apply this caution to physical codes and those received via email or text messages. Check for spelling errors in the QR code’s URL or accompanying text.
  • When making payments, ensure the safety of the source before scanning any code. Keep your device regularly updated to minimize vulnerability to potential threats.
  • Configure your device settings to prompt verification and authorization before executing any action a QR code prompts.
  • Consider manually entering website addresses instead of relying on QR codes for added safety.

For more valuable cybersecurity tips, explore our article on juice jacking, another form of sneaky cybercrime that attempts to compromise your devices in real life.


Reporting Suspicious QR Codes at Work

It’s crucial to have guidelines and security protocols that address the risks of QR code scams. Equip your employees with tools to report suspicious codes they encounter, especially on work devices or emails, so the entire organization remains vigilant. By educating them on recognizing potential threats, your business fosters a proactive approach, ensuring risks are minimized.


What to Do If You Fall for a QR Scam

Like other forms of cybercrime, hackers have refined their skills in crafting malicious QR codes that are nearly indistinguishable from legitimate ones. Falling victim to such a scam does not reflect your level of intelligence or savvy.

It can happen to anyone! But if you do become a victim of a QR code scam, taking swift action is critical.

First, initiate damage control. Disconnect from the source and the internet. Additionally, change all your passwords immediately.

Next, thoroughly check your device for potential malware and closely monitor your accounts for any signs of suspicious activity.

Reporting the incident is essential, particularly in a workplace setting. Notify your bank and relevant authorities if the scam compromises your financial accounts. In addition to internal reporting, consider reporting the incident to organizations such as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security. These actions create a safer and more secure environment for all Canadians. The data collected by these organizations can aid the government in implementing more effective anti-fraud measures, which include identifying and punishing the culprits.

Finally, take proactive steps to bolster your cybersecurity posture by regularly backing up your data to prepare for future incidents. In cases where the QR code scam involves ransomware, follow our steps for recovery.


Reinforce Your Cybersecurity With PC Corp

To avoid falling victim to a QR code scam or any kind of cyberattack, people must stay vigilant as they navigate online spaces. While we can still leverage these digital tools’ versatility and convenience, we must learn how to do it securely. 

For business leaders, that means creating an environment that empowers their employees to default to cybersecurity best practices.

PC Corp Managed IT services implement industry-proven security measures to safeguard data and networks. The team provides robust IT infrastructure securities, reducing vulnerability to threats. This collaboration strengthens defenses against advanced cybercrime tactics.

Contact us to discuss how we can cultivate a more resilient environment for you and your team.


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