QR Code Fraud: How To Distinguish A Fake QR Code And Protect Against QR Code Scam

Ilaha Mammadova

Nov 28, 2023

5 min read

QR Code Fraud

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QR code fraud is a form of cybercrime wherein fraudsters exploit the user’s scanning of QR codes to obtain personal or financial information. QR code fraud works by scanning QR codes crafted by fraudsters, including malicious information. There are 6 different types of QR code fraud, including malicious QR codes, QR codes for phishing scams, QR codes for payment fraud, QR code fake giveaways, QR codes for counterfeit products, and QR codes for ticket scams. Three instances of QR code fraud have been reported recently by Austin Police Department Financial Crimes, Rabobank, and Singapore's cybersecurity agency. There are 3 aspects to knowing a QR code is safe, including the QR code’s appearance, placement, the link it opens upon scanning, the website it redirects to, and the app it redirects to download.

A Malicious QR code leads to harmful consequences once scanned. Fraudsters design the QR codes to redirect unsuspecting users to dangerous websites or initiate malware downloads onto their smartphones. Scammers create fake phishing websites that closely resemble those of reputable companies. They easily lure users onto fake sites and capture their personal information using QR codes. Scammers often exploit QR codes during payment transactions, deceive users with fake giveaways, sell counterfeit products as genuine ones, or engage in fraudulent ticket sales. The sole safeguard against the risks is to meticulously examine the QR code, the source from which it originated, the displayed link, and the destination site before scanning the QR code. It is imperative not to give any information before conducting the verifications.

What is QR code fraud?

QR code fraud is a form of cybercrime wherein fraudsters exploit the user’s scanning of QR codes to obtain personal or financial information. QR code fraud has severe consequences, including compromising individuals' card details and facilitating unauthorized funds transfers to fraudsters. QR code scams occur in various ways, such as redirecting users to malicious websites after scanning the QR code or tricking them into downloading malware-infected devices. The theft of personal or card information poses significant risks to users. Fraudsters utilize text messages, emails, and other forms of communication to send a fake QR code to unsuspecting users. The proliferation of deceptive QR codes resembling genuine ones is rising. Fraudsters affix stickers onto legitimate QR codes, causing people to scan them and fall victim to fraud unwittingly.

How does QR code fraud work?

QR code fraud works by scanning QR codes crafted by fraudsters, including malicious information. Firstly, scammers meticulously craft counterfeit QR codes that resemble genuine ones, aiming to deceive individuals into making payments or providing sensitive information on behalf of a trusted brand. Fraudulent QR codes are designed to be indistinguishable from authentic ones. Fake QR codes are distributed to individuals via text messages, emails, and social media platforms or even physically placed in public spaces such as streets or roads. Fraudsters sometimes affix these counterfeit QR codes as stickers onto legitimate ones. Users are either redirected to malicious websites or have malware injected into their smartphones when they unknowingly scan the manipulated QR codes. Scanning QR codes enables QR code scams, allowing fraudsters to seize personal or card information and carry out unauthorized transactions from the victims' accounts.

What are the different types of QR code fraud?

Listed below are 6 different types of QR code fraud.

  • Malicious QR codes: Malicious QR codes redirect individuals to hazardous websites or initiate the download of malware onto their mobile devices, resulting in the theft of their personal or card information after scanning.
  • QR code for phishing scams: QR code phishing scams are employed to redirect individuals to impeccably designed, counterfeit websites of prominent companies, giving the appearance of authenticity. These deceptive sites capture the unsuspecting victims' personal or card information.
  • QR code for payment fraud: QR code for payment fraud is employed surreptitiously to redirect payment from the user’s account to the fraudster's account without the user's awareness by using a counterfeit QR code.
  • QR code fake giveaways: QR code fake giveaways are used to entice users to provide their card or personal information under the pretense of participating in fake giveaways by scanning QR codes.
  • QR code for counterfeit products: QR codes redirect users to dangerous websites where counterfeit goods are sold, creating an illusion that these fake products are genuine.
  • QR code for ticket scams: QR codes for ticket scams are exploited to facilitate the fraudulent sale of counterfeit tickets and enable the transfer of money to fraudsters under the guise of parking fees.

1. Malicious QR codes

Malicious QR codes capture individuals' personal or card information by directing them to hazardous websites or downloading malware onto their mobile devices. Malicious QR codes link to a malicious site by disseminating links. Users are immediately redirected to the corresponding website after scanning the QR code. The sites are often fake or non-existent platforms. However, the user is prompted to provide their card or personal information. The scammers immediately seize it once a user scans the QR code. The virus QR code contains a link that prompts downloading a dangerous app, appearing to be a legitimate application associated with a bank or other reputable agency in the second case. The user's data is still stolen upon downloading the app. It is crucial to examine the content of the email diligently, the text sender, and the QR code itself before scanning it, ensuring complete confidence in its legitimacy to ascertain the authenticity of a QR code.

2. QR code for phishing scams

QR code phishing scams are employed to illicitly obtain individuals' personal or card information by redirecting them to seemingly authentic websites that are, in fact, fraudulent. Counterfeit sites are like popular banks or e-commerce platforms, leading people to fall victim to deception. Users are immediately redirected to phishing sites, skilfully crafted to resemble legitimate platforms once they scan the QR code closely. Consequently, individuals unknowingly provide their information as prompted by the deceptive site. Fraudsters seize the user's data and exploit it for malicious purposes. It is imperative to thoroughly scrutinize the website to which one is redirected after scanning the QR code to safeguard against such fraudulent activities.

3. QR code for payment fraud

QR codes for payment fraud divert funds to fraudsters' accounts instead of the intended recipient after being scanned. Users are promptly directed to the payment page when they scan the QR code to initiate a payment. Users proceed with transferring money through a mobile payment app or a mobile wallet on their device. The funds are routed to the fraudster's account rather than the intended recipient without the user's knowledge of payment fraud. Fraudsters substitute genuine QR codes with counterfeit ones or even generate and present their scam codes. It is crucial to verify the identity of the person or entity providing the QR code to ensure the authenticity of the money QR code before scanning it for payment. The payment proceeds using the QR code once thoroughly validated.

4. QR code fake giveaways

QR codes utilized in fake giveaways are employed to illicitly obtain individuals' personal or financial information by deceiving them with promises of gifts, promotions, or cash prizes. Fraudsters create these QR codes and present them to people through various means such as emails, text messages, posters, or even on the streets. They entice individuals to scan the QR code by offering enticing rewards or monetary incentives. Unsuspecting individuals are directed to hazardous websites once the QR code fake is scanned. These websites then prompt users to provide their personal and card information to claim the promised gift. However, the fraudsters seize the data for malicious purposes after submitting the information. Conducting a thorough investigation and carefully verifying the source before scanning it to safeguard against such fraudulent QR codes is essential.

5. QR code for counterfeit products

Counterfeiters use QR codes to deceive individuals into believing counterfeit products are genuine. Fake QR codes are affixed to various items, and users are directed to websites that offer fake merchandise, imitating the appearance of legitimate goods. Users are easily convinced that the products and the websites are authentic, perpetuating the deception cycle because they often fail to examine them thoroughly. Consequently, these unscrupulous individuals profit from conveniently selling counterfeit items while misleading unsuspecting consumers.

6. QR code for ticket scams

QR codes are exploited by scammers in the context of ticket fraud, including capturing card information during parking ticket payments and facilitating the sale of counterfeit tickets. A QR code is affixed to the ticket, typically before any parking fees are incurred. Fraudsters utilize the tickets to redirect funds into their accounts. They are seamlessly redirected to a payment page, creating the illusion of a legitimate parking payment when a user scans the fake QR code. However, the payment is being funneled into the fraudster's account without the user’s knowledge. Moreover, the user's card information is surreptitiously obtained during the process.

The second scenario involves the creation of fraudulent QR codes for ticket sales. Unsuspecting individuals are led to a counterfeit website upon scanning the scam code. They proceed to enter their personal information and make payments to purchase tickets. Consequently, the fraudsters capture the user's provided information and leave the victims with counterfeit tickets.

What are some examples of QR code fraud that have been reported recently?

Three examples of QR code fraud have been reported recently by Austin Police Department Financial Crimes, Rabobank, and Singapore's cybersecurity agency. The first example was uncovered by the Austin Police Department Financial Crimes unit, which warned the public to exercise caution. The fraudsters affixed fake QR code stickers to public parking meters, creating the illusion that scanning the code initiates a parking transaction. However, scanning the QR code directed users to a fraudulent website operated by scammers, who receive payment from unsuspecting parking users.

The second example involves a deceptive message sent on behalf of Rabobank. The fraudsters capitalized on the reputation of Rabobank, one of the largest Dutch banks, by using their logo to inform recipients that their bank card was nearing expiration. The message urged them to scan a QR code for a new card. It was an attempt to acquire sensitive card information from unsuspecting individuals.

The third example involves a QR code scam, as revealed by Singapore's cybersecurity agency. QR code malware was loaded onto the victim's smartphone, allowing the fraudsters to get funds upon scanning the QR code. The agency strongly advised people to exercise caution and be vigilant before scanning any QR codes.

What are common reasons why people fall into QR code fraud?

Listed below are 5 common reasons why people fall into QR code fraud.

  • People often fail to scrutinize the content and instead readily accept its authenticity without considering the potential for it being fraudulent when they come across emails or texts from well-known brands. Consequently, messages purportedly originating from major banks and corporations are exploited more easily to deceive unsuspecting individuals.
  • People remain oblivious that QR codes are used for fraud. Consequently, people tend to scan a fake QR code without considering the fraud risks.
  • People tend to hastily scan QR codes even when they are aware of the fraud, simply due to their eagerness to accomplish the process promptly. It is particularly prevalent among individuals who frequently utilize QR codes, as they do not consider the likelihood of encountering a deceptive QR code.
  • People often neglect to examine the QR code before scanning it due to the limited time for verification. Scammers exploit the urgency of promotional campaigns by creating counterfeit QR codes for enticing gifts.
  • People are oblivious to the risks of navigating unsafe web pages or platforms because they lack security applications that safeguard their mobile devices or other devices against malicious sites or apps.

Can a QR code scanner be used for QR code fraud?

Yes, QR code scanners are used for QR code fraud. QR code scanners are responsible for reading QR codes, irrespective of the information contained within them. QR code scanners themselves are not inherently fraudulent tools. However, the scanners inadvertently read and direct users to such content automatically when scammers utilize QR codes for deceptive intentions by embedding false or misleading information. The QR code scanner does not determine whether the information is harmful or benign and thus does not prevent users from accessing harmful content.

Can a QR code generator create a QR code for fraud?

Yes, a QR code generator creates a QR code for fraud. QR code generator functions as a tool to embed information within QR codes and publish that information, regardless of its content. QR code generators are not directly employed for fraud. However, fraudsters utilize QR codes for fraudulent activities, and the information within fake QR codes is generated using QR code generators. The QR code generators inadvertently serve as intermediaries in facilitating such activities. It becomes challenging to prevent individuals from realizing that the information contained therein was intended for fraudulent purposes once the scam code is posted.

How to know if a QR code is safe

There are 3 aspects to knowing a QR code is safe, including the QR code’s appearance, placement, the link it opens upon scanning, the website it redirects to, and the app it redirects to download. Legit QR codes are not easily distinguished from fake ones based on visual inspection alone. However, specific indicators suggest a QR code (Quick Response Code) is counterfeit. Fake QR codes often lack quality design and exhibit inferior visual characteristics, raising suspicion of their authenticity.

One key factor to consider is the proper placement of the QR code. It is a fake if it appears to be overlaid. Scrutinizing the URL displayed on the screen is crucial after scanning. It strongly indicates that the QR code is unsafe if the URL contains mixed characters or spelling errors or appears nonsensical. It is important to note that legitimate QR codes rarely require personal or card information input. It is advisable to exercise caution and avoid filling them out unless fully confident in the QR code's authenticity if prompted to provide such details.

The website to which the QR code directs must be relevant to the code's content. The QR code is unsafe if the website seems unrelated to the displayed content. It is essential to evaluate the app's authenticity if the QR code prompts the download of a specific app. The QR code is unsafe to scan if the app appears to be a modified or unofficial version.


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How to protect yourself from QR code fraud

How to protect yourself from QR code fraud

There are 4 essential factors protecting from QR code fraud, including examining the QR code and its associated URL, employing a security app on the mobile device, refraining from sharing card information on every website, and ensuring no stickers are attached to the QR code. After scanning a QR code, a link typically appears on the screen. It is crucial to verify that the domain name of the link originates from a genuinely trustworthy source, whether it be an institution or an individual, to ensure QR code safety.

Another important measure is to install a security app on a mobile device. The app serves as a protective measure by issuing notifications whenever they are directed to an unsafe website, thus preventing the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information. Checking the content of the QR code thoroughly is imperative. For instance, it is essential to scrutinize the offered’s credibility if the QR code promises a gift or cash prize. Exercise caution if there are any inconsistencies or unrelated elements.

Verifying the website's authenticity is crucial before providing sensitive details if it requires personal or card information. Fraudsters access the information if it is not done. It is essential to ensure no stickers are attached to QR codes when scanning them in public areas. Fraudsters often employ the method in public spaces to deceive unsuspecting individuals.

What are the legal consequences of engaging in QR code fraud?

The legal consequences of engaging in QR code fraud are subject to various factors, much like other forms of fraud. QR code fraud itself does not carry any unique legal consequences. QR code fraud is included in general fraud issues, and the legal repercussions of QR code scams vary from country to country, like combating fraud. The specific legal consequences are contingent upon factors such as the amount of money stolen or the nature of the information compromised. The previous illegal activities of the individual involved in the fraudulent activity influence the severity of the punishment. The determination of appropriate penalties considers a comprehensive assessment of all relevant factors. However, it is essential to note that these legal punishments do not guarantee the recovery of lost funds.

Are there any regulations or standards in place to prevent QR code fraud?

No, there are no regulations or standards specific to the QR code to prevent QR code fraud. Every country has its own set of anti-fraud regulations applicable in fraud cases. The regulations encompass aspects such as data privacy protection and consumer protection. No special regulations or standards exist specifically targeting frauds through scam codes. Individuals are advised to adhere to a few guidelines to mitigate the risk of falling victim to a QR code scam. The guidelines include verifying the source and authenticity of the QR code the entity is sending before scanning it.

QR code fraud operates by exploiting the scanning of QR codes, leading to scammers acquiring individuals' personal or card information. QR codes direct users to malicious websites or initiate the installation of malware on their mobile devices once scanned. Personal information is acquired and subsequently seized upon visiting the websites. The structure of harmful programs facilitates the unauthorized capture of personal or card information from users' devices.

Another form of fraud involves diverting money to fraudsters' cards during payment. QR codes carry out deceptive practices such as organizing fraudulent contests, selling counterfeit products, and selling fake tickets. Preventing QR code scams necessitates using secure QR codes, carefully verifying the sender's source, and refraining from sharing personal information on websites without authentication for handling sensitive data. Recovering the stolen funds is not guaranteed, underscoring the need for extreme caution.

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Content Manager

Ilaha Mammadova

As an experienced content manager, Ilaha specializes in crafting SEO-friendly content that blends creativity and strategy. With a passion for delivering high-quality, engaging content, Ilaha focuses on innovative ideas to help brands elevate their digital presence. Her dedication to excellence ensures that every piece ranks well and resonates with the target audience, making a lasting impact. In her free time, she enjoys singing a song and capturing moments through photography, adding an extra touch of creativity to everything she does.

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