Quick Response codes, or QR Codes, have been part of our mobile-friendly world since 1994. Typically we see these scannable coded images on advertisements, giving us a quick way to access more information from our mobile device without typing an entire URL or website address on our tiny keyboard.
QR codes became even more popular, when restaurants and other service industries wanted to eliminate physical menus and other printed information during our peak COVID years. Restaurant patrons could simply scan a QR code from their booth to see the food menu, instead of touching the germs left behind by previous patrons.
More recently, however, QR codes have been used to scam and phish consumers. The image below features three QR codes on a gas pump. Imagine if you had assumed that the QR codes were quick ways to link you to payment methods, but at some point the QR code sticker had been replaced and sent you to a look-alike site that harvested your bank or credit card information?
Some email scams recently have also sent an QR code within the email, directing users to scan the QR code to verify their email, banking information, etc. When the users visits the destination linked from the bogus QR code, the website harvests their credentials or personal information entered on the bogus site.
QR codes on a gas pump for easy payment
How do you stay safe from QR Code threats?
- Keep your phone updated – this will keep your security systems updated
- Consider a third-party app for opening QR codes – some of these will scan the destination first, and let you know if the destination is safe
- When you scan the QR code, you can usually see a small preview of the web address. Is it going where you expected to go?
- If the destination is asking for personal information, think before entering those details. Can you see the address in your web browser? Does it look like a real address? Does it seem like a sensible ask for you to enter personal information?
- Don’t scan random QR codes on posters and fliers in the wild. Make a note to research the information later if you were intrigued by an upcoming concert announcement or a litter of Golden Doodles.