That QR code you’re about to scan could be from a scammer after your identity or money.

3 minute read

By now, you’ve gotten used to scanning QR codes — a barcode image used to store URLs and other information — with your smartphone camera app for all kinds of things. You can scan QR codes to access restaurant URLs, order takeout online, track packages and pay for parking, just to name a few ways the handy codes are used.

But did you know that some of those innocent-looking QR codes could be a scam, directing you to phishing websites, phony payment portals and device-infecting malware or viruses? That’s according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which recently issued a warning about QR code scams.

“There are many legitimate and helpful uses for QR codes,” according to the BBB. “However, scammers are also taking note of the technology and using QR codes to carry out various schemes.”

Before you scan the next QR code for quick access to what you need, take a look at these common QR code scams and how to avoid becoming a victim.

Phishing scams

There’s no way to know where that QR code on a flier or in an email or text will direct you until you scan it. Scammers know that too. That’s why they count on you scanning QR codes that direct you to “phishing” websites asking for personal information and online passwords that could be used for identity theft or fraudulent transaction purposes.

Many QR scam attempts notify you of “suspicious activity” in one of your online accounts and ask you to verify your identity. Don’t fall for it. “In reality, the information provided is going to a scammer, which they then use for other purposes,” warns the BBB.

Find out: How to Identify a Tax Debt Relief Scam

Fake parking meter QR codes

It’s becoming more common to pay for parking by scanning a QR code on the parking meter. But don’t be too quick to pay with a quick QR code scan. You could return to find your car towed or ticketed because your “payment” went straight to a scammer.

“Con artists can easily create a QR code for free online, which they then print on stickers and either cover up an actual QR code or place where it makes logical sense,” says the BBB.

If you have no choice but to pay for parking using a QR code, make sure you download the official city parking app, advises Komando.com. The same goes for universities, office parking garages or other entities that only have the option of paying for parking with a QR code app.

Find out: Know These 5 Red Flags of a Fake Website

Romance cryptocurrency scams

Some QR code scammers spend weeks or months gaining the trust of their unsuspecting victim under the guise of romance. Once trust is built, the scammer asks for financial assistance or pretends to advise their newfound soulmate on cryptocurrency investments with a QR code.

Once the victim scans the QR code to transfer funds to the scammer’s digital wallet, the deal is done and the “romance” is likely over. Or the scammer may come back for more. “Many victims lose thousands of dollars before they discover they are being scammed,” says the BBB.

Find out: 7 Signs Your Online Soulmate is Out to Scam You

Government and utility impostors

The BBB has received many QR code scam complaints from consumers who were contacted by scammers posing as representatives for utility companies or government agencies like the IRS or Social Security Administration. The phony agent typically notifies you that you have an outstanding debt or unpaid bill that must be paid immediately.

The imposter directs you to scan a QR code for an alternate payment portal, claiming the official portal is currently down. “The payment portal the victim is directed to often mimics the real portal down to the finest detail, providing a false sense of security that it is legitimate,” warns the BBB.

Find out: Don’t Be Fooled by These 6 Government Imposter Scams

Tips to avoid QR code scams

Here are three tips from the BBB for avoiding QR code scams.

1. Confirm the QR code before scanning

If a friend sent the code, contact them to make sure they actually sent the QR code in your text message or email.

2. Beware of short links

When you hover over a QR code, if a shortened URL appears, be careful. “Make sure you are confident that the QR code is legitimate before following short links, as it may send you to a malicious website,” says the BBB.

“Scammers often switch around the domain and subdomains for URLs or slightly misspell one word to make websites appear legitimate.”

3. Check with the associated business

Many businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants use QR codes for a smoother customer experience. Before you scan a QR code in an ad, however, check with the business to make sure the QR code is legitimate.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

Published by Debt.com, LLC