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BBB warns of recently reported QR code scams

Predictably, scammers are finding ways to take advantage of the use of QR codes in the modern marketplace. QR codes (quick response codes) seem to be everywhere now. Looking like tiny pieces of abstract art, the dotted little squares of computer codes are found on transportation tickets, advertisements, in-store product labels and entertainment tickets. They are useful for such purposes as tracking packages and viewing menus. When scanned easily by cellphones, QR codes instantly direct consumers to websites or other applications. 

As a form of touchless transactions, they have proliferated during the pandemic. Unfortunately, with that proliferation comes an uptick in scammers who have latched onto the QR code as a means for directing your private information and your money into scammers’ hands. Your Better Business Bureau (BBB) is receiving reports of such scams and offers the following information as a means of protecting consumers from this recent technological threat.

How QR scams work

Consumers are reporting the misdirecting codes in emails, social media direct messages, texts, fliers, and snail mail. Fake QR codes are applied as stickers over legitimate codes at times. They have even shown up in restaurants, where they are stuck on napkin dispensers to supposedly direct customers to the establishment’s menu.

Once scanned with a cellphone, the code may direct to a fake website designed to grab your personal financial data, log-in credentials and in turn, steal your money.

A consumer reported to BBB Scam Tracker that they were sent a fake letter regarding student loan consolidation. It looked as if the code would link to the legitimate website, but it was fraudulent. Also fraudulent was another person’s message claiming their electricity would be shut off unless they quickly paid their bill at a nearby gas station via QR code. The codes have been used fraudulently in association with bit coin transactions as well.

Keeping QR scams at bay

Here are points worth remembering as you use QR codes:

• On any public location, look carefully for evidence that a fake QR code sticker has been applied over a business’s legitimate one.

• Do not trust a QR code that has been sent to you by a friend on social media. Your friend’s account may have been hacked specifically for such a purpose. Instead of scanning the code, contact the friend and verify that they did send it to you.

• Never open links from strangers, especially QR code links. Pay no attention to promises of gifts or investment opportunities. 

• When a code appears to come from a reputable source, double check. If the correspondence appears to come from a government agency, call or visit their official website to confirm.

• Watch out for URL-shortened links as they won’t reveal where the code is directing you. It may be to a malicious URL.

• Use a QR scanner with added security. There are antivirus companies that have scanner apps that can check the safety of a scanned link before you open it. They are useful for identifying phishing scams, force app downloads and such.

If you have questions or concerns regarding QR code scams, contact your BBB at 800-856-2417 or visit