Be alert for QR Code scams

Many people know not to click links from emails and text messages if it’s from an unknown sender, but the Better Business Bureau said scammers are now using QR codes to hide suspicious links.

What Is a QR Code?
A QR (Quick Response) code is an interactive link that is a black and white square made up of dots and smaller squares. You scan the link with your smart phone and it will take you to a website, download a file, or launch an app on your phone to take an action. QR codes are fun, easy, and alluring because they can be placed on anything from promotional flyers, used at fundraising events, or on a restaurant menu.

“QR codes were, interestingly enough, kind of going out of style, going out of fashion, and then the pandemic hit,” said Jonathan Liebert, the CEO and executive director for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado. “We’ve seen an increase on QR codes. A lot of people know that when you go into a restaurant now you have to scan that menu and use that QR code for that.”

Just like with any trend, scammers tend to follow.

“These codes really can’t be read by the human eye, but they’re easy for your smartphone, so it’s great and easy to use if you want to track something or go to a website, but it’s really easy for scammers to disguise malicious links in there,” Liebert said. “You have no idea what could be going into your phone if you’re not paying attention to those QR codes.”

Best Practices when Using QR Codes:
• Never scan a QR code from an unknown or untrustworthy source. Did you receive a random, anonymous flyer claiming you could win the latest iPhone if you scan the code? Don’t trust it!
• Be aware that scammers may alter legitimate advertising or business materials – it’s best to be careful with all codes, even those from trusted sources.
• If you scan a QR code and the URL looks cryptic, the website requires a login, or the site is unrelated to what you scanned, close out of your browser immediately.
• When scanning a QR code, be sure to use a scanner app that provides a preview of the destination (if there is an option to automatically open websites, be sure to turn that off). This feature gives you a chance to review the URL to see if it goes to the website you expect. Some scanner apps even have additional security built into them that warn you if a website is known to be malicious.

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By Vickie Lubner-Webb, Telephone and Data Systems Security Analyst

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