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Fake QR Code Scams: How to Identify and Avoid Them

Fake QR Code Scams
Fake QR Code Scams

Since the pandemic, QR codes have thrived. However, with the rise of QR codes, there’s been a rise in Fake QR code scams, too.

During the pandemic, restaurants, bars, shops and others within the hospitality industry had to make changes to minimise the spread of the virus. Businesses turned to QR codes and implemented them on tables, menus and even windows and doors for customers to scan to order. And, since the pandemic, QR codes have continued to thrive. We now see them daily, such as on a Costa Coffee Machine to scan your order to collect beans on your application or in car parks to pay for parking at private facilities.

However, a large threat lies beneath their surface-level simplicity and efficiency: fake QR codes, also known as QR code scams. This sophisticated form of cyber fraud has alarmingly escalated in recent months. With a surge in these scams across the UK, it’s crucial to understand how they operate, their impact, and the necessary steps for protection. This article delves into the intricacies of fake QR codes, offering insights and advice to navigate this modern-day cyber security challenge with caution and awareness.

What is a QR Code Scam? 

A QR Code Scam is a deceptive practice where fraudsters exploit QR codes to perpetrate fraud and steal personal information. Typically, these scams involve the creation of counterfeit QR codes that, when scanned, redirect users to fraudulent websites. These websites often mimic legitimate businesses or services, cunningly designed to harvest sensitive data such as login credentials, financial information, and personal identification details. 

Recent trends indicate a worrying escalation in such scams. Data from the UK’s Action Fraud reveals a significant spike in reported QR code-related fraudulent activities, underscoring the need for heightened vigilance. The number of QR code scams in the UK has risen, with over 400 reported this year alone and 1,200 fake QR codes investigated by Action Fraud since 2020.

Fake QR Codes in Car Parks 

Recent news reports and word of mouth in Cardiff and Bristol areas show a significant increase in fake QR codes in car parks nationwide. A woman has fallen victim to the fake QR code scam in Thornaby station, Teeside, where cyber criminals covered the genuine QR code. The cybercriminal gang has since taken £13,000 from the woman.

How the Fake QR Code Scam Works 

The fake QR code scam works because cyber criminals cover the genuine QR code with a new one, which will direct them to a ‘fake’ website, pretending to be the real website. As the user is not expecting any malice in the QR code, as they have most likely paid for this car park previously, they will continue to pay as usual through the fake website. 

The person then submits the payment details, and the cybercriminals have the bank card details. The cybercriminals will then try to withdraw money, although quite often, the bank can stop this.

In the case of the 71-year-old woman who got a fake QR code scammed in Teeside for £13,000, the situation didn’t stop there. The cybercriminal gang then contacted the woman, pretending to be the bank, and had taken out a £7,500 loan within a short period.

This growing trend mirrors the increasing reliance on digital transactions and interactions, marking QR code scams as a prevalent threat in our interconnected digital landscape. It’s time to be more vigilant than ever; who knows what’s next?  

The Impact of Fake QR Code Scams

The ramifications of fake QR code scams extend far beyond mere financial loss. Victims often endure profound emotional distress, grappling with feelings of vulnerability and betrayal. The economic repercussions can be severe, with individuals facing substantial monetary theft, credit damage, and long-term financial insecurity. This psychological and financial toll is a personal burden and contributes to a broader societal impact.

Economically, these scams undermine consumer trust in digital transactions, a cornerstone of our modern economy. And, when the world is only ever moving forward to a more digital and artificial intelligence landscape, consumer trust is vital to move forward with such innovations on the horizon.

Protecting Yourself from Fake QR Code Scams 

Vigilance is vital in recognising QR code scams. The first step is to scrutinise the physical context of the QR code. Be wary of QR codes placed in unusual or suspect locations, especially if they cover existing QR codes or signage. Authentic QR codes in public spaces are typically accompanied by clear, official branding or information, yet don’t let this mean the QR code is safe. However, it’s still worth investigating. What if cybercriminals cover the QR code with a sticker? We recommend to be as careful as possible when checking for fake QR codes.

Another safeguard is to avoid scanning codes received via unsolicited emails or messages. These are often gateways to phishing sites. Before scanning a QR code, consider using QR scanner apps that preview the URL, helping to identify suspicious links. Finally, ensure the website you land on after scanning a QR code is secure and legitimate, indicated by a valid HTTPS certificate and a familiar web address. 

Regularly updating your device’s security software also provides an essential defence against emerging cyber threats. 

Will Fake QR Codes Be The Future For Cyber Criminals?

Fake QR codes are becoming more common, but our cyber security experts expect QR codes to become safer in the future. Our cyber security experts expect there to be preventions in place to prevent scams like this from happening, but ‘when?’ is the question we can’t answer. What future technology has for us is unknown, but we hope it can bring a safer way to use QR codes – or the next emerging technology with more robust measures.

fake qr codes are the new scam to be aware of in 2024
Fake QR codes are the new scam to be aware of in 2024.

Conclusion

While QR codes offer convenience, the rise of fake QR code scams calls for caution. We are sure there will be advancements in technology to provide a safer way of using QR codes, but for now, all we can do is stay vigilant. Awareness of how these scams work and taking simple steps to verify QR codes can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to them. Use secure scanning practices and keep informed about the latest security measures. 

For businesses affected by fake QR codes or relying on such technology, why not speak to one of our cyber security experts to see if we can help protect your business and customers? 

Excellence IT is a cyber security-first Managed Service Provider based in South Wales, serving businesses in Swansea, Cardiff and Newport

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