QR code scams are growing, experts say

Photo (c) Koonsiri Boonnak EyeEm - Getty Images

Scammers are using these codes to trick their victims

In recent years, scammers have learned that QR codes can be an effective way to ensnare their victims. The codes are so common now that consumers rarely think twice about scanning one to retrieve a menu or make a payment.

Business cards can include a QR code that will direct a user to an online platform that's complete with videos and has more in-depth information about the services offered than what a standard business card can display. 

As we’ve previously reported, scammers use QR codes to direct users to phishing websites, fraudulent payment portals, and downloads that infect devices with viruses or malware. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), these scams are multiplying and taking on new forms.

Parking meter scam

One of the most creative – and dangerous – scam variations involves parking meters. Scammers have printed stickers with fake QR codes that they place on parking meters that tell motorists they can easily pay by scanning the QR code with their phones.

Unsuspecting motorists who scan the codes think they are paying for parking, but they are actually transferring money directly to the criminals. After paying for the spot through the QR code, some victims return to find that their vehicle has been towed or received a parking ticket for non-payment, multiplying the amount of money lost. 

QR codes are also being used in imposter scams to make it easier for bad actors to collect money from victims. The scheme begins as a regular imposter scam; the victim is warned that their electricity is about to be cut off or that they are going to be arrested on some charge if they don’t make immediate payment.

Unfortunately, they are told that the regular payment portal is down, so the scammer asks for an email address to send a message with a QR code. The payment portal the victim is directed to often mimics the real portal down to the finest detail, providing a false sense of security that it is legitimate. Once the victim transfers the money, it can’t be traced or retrieved.

Used in romance scams

The BBB reports that QR codes are now a tool used in pulling off romance scams. After developing an online relationship with the victim, the scammer asks for financial help to deal with an emergency. It’s easiest, the scammer says, if the funds are delivered in the form of a cryptocurrency.

The victim follows a provided QR code and transfers the requested amount to the scammer’s digital wallet. Many victims lose thousands of dollars before they discover they are being scammed. For the scammer, the QR code just made the transaction smoother and more likely to succeed.

To avoid these scams, always confirm that a QR code is legitimate before scanning it. If a friend or co-worker sends you a message with a QR code, quickly communicate with them to confirm whether it’s from them and not someone who may have hacked their account.

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