While the Internet’s ubiquity revolutionized how we do business, connect with others, and access information, the digital age also ushered in a significant threat—online fraud. It is a pervasive and evolving form of cybercriminal activity with far-reaching effects on individuals, businesses, and society.

Online fraudsters have a single goal—to deceive others into acquiring sensitive financial information. How? We’ve seen most of them engage in identity theft, phishing scams, credit card fraud, romance scams, and investment fraud. But did you know that many threat actors have also begun launching QR code fraud attacks? What is QR code fraud, though? And what are the most common QR code scams?

What Is QR Code Fraud?

QR code fraud is a fraudulent activity that exploits Quick Response (QR) codes, those two-dimensional barcodes you can scan using a smartphone or QR code reader. QR codes are commonly used for making payments, accessing websites, or providing information. ExpressVPN’s research revealed that over the past two years, there had been a 26% increase in QR code scans, showing how much people have embraced this technology. However, the soaring popularity of QR codes has unfortunately led to a surge in QR code fraud. Scammers started to manipulate or replace legitimate QR codes with malicious ones to deceive users and carry out fraud.

What Are Common Examples of QR Code Fraud?

Here are a few common forms of QR code fraud.

  • Payment interception: Scammers create counterfeit QR codes and place them over legitimate ones, typically at points of sale (PoSs) or on advertising materials. When users scan the fake QR code to pay for goods, their payments get directed to the scammer’s account instead of the intended recipient.
  • Malware distribution: Fraudsters can embed malware or malicious links within QR codes. When scanned, these codes download malware onto users’ devices without their knowledge. That can lead to identity theft, financial loss, or unauthorized access to personal information.
  • Phishing attacks: Scammers create QR codes that direct users to fake websites that mimic legitimate ones. These sites are designed to collect sensitive information like login credentials, credit card details, and other personal data, which threat actors can use for identity theft or other fraudulent activities.
  • Malicious app downloads: QR codes can be used to encourage users to download fraudulent or malicious mobile apps. Scammers may advertise these apps as legitimate and valuable, but they can contain harmful content, spyware, or a means to access personal data without the user’s authorization.
How to Protect against QR Code Fraud

As QR code usage increases, there are bound to be more.

What Are the Repercussions of QR Code Fraud?

The effects of QR code fraud are multifaceted and can be devastating. Here are some of them.

  • Financially, victims may suffer substantial monetary losses, jeopardizing their savings, credit ratings, and overall financial well-being.
  • Emotionally, individuals who fall prey to online fraud often experience feelings of betrayal, violation, and loss of trust.
  • The psychological impact can be long-lasting, leading to anxiety, stress, and a diminished sense of security in the digital realm.

QR code fraud extends beyond individual victims, too. In fact, it can have profound implications for businesses and the economy. Some examples include:

  • Companies face financial losses, reputational damage, and sometimes, even legal consequences.
  • QR code fraud also drains resources, reduces consumer confidence, and hampers growth and innovation, affecting the overall economy.

How Do You Protect Yourself against QR Code Fraud?

To defend against QR code fraud, consider the following precautions:

  • Verify the QR code’s source: Be cautious when scanning QR codes from unknown or untrusted sources. Stick to reputable websites, official apps, or trusted sources only.
  • Inspect QR codes: Before scanning a QR code, examine it closely for any sign of tampering or overlays. Check if the code appears to be physically altered or suspicious.
  • Use a QR code scanner: Install a reliable QR code scanner app from a trusted source to ensure it includes security features that detect malicious codes or embedded links.
  • Stay updated: Keep your devices, apps, and security software up-to-date to protect against known vulnerabilities or exploits.
  • Be wary of unsolicited QR codes: Avoid scanning QR codes sent through unsolicited messages like texts, emails, or social media comments, especially if they come from unknown sources.

You can reduce the risk of falling prey to QR code fraud by staying vigilant and exercising caution.

But to truly combat the growing threat of QR code fraud, individuals, organizations, and governments must collaborate to implement robust security measures, raise awareness, and enhance law enforcement efforts. We can only work toward a safer and more secure digital landscape for everyone by understanding its nature and detrimental effects.