10 Ways On How To Recognize a Fake QR Code

Gunel Ismayilova

Feb 27, 2024

7 min read

How to Recognize a Fake QR Code

Recognizing a fake QR code is important due to the potential risks of falling victim to fraudulent codes. Fake QR codes lead to various threats, including online scams, malware downloads, identity theft, financial scams, and compromising personal data and privacy.


Take proactive steps to protect personal information and device data from malware, phishing attacks, and financial fraud hidden behind a seemingly innocuous QR code. Defense tactics include verifying the source, ensuring content alignment, scrutinizing URLs, and using trusted scanner apps. The visual design, errors, redundant information, and permission requests authenticate QR codes. Feel free to trust gut instincts. Don’t hesitate if something feels off.


It is important to follow a specific set of steps right away after scanning a suspicious QR code: disabling the internet connection, avoiding sensitive information, closing the opened browser or app, detecting and removing malware using antivirus and security software, being vigilant about unusual behavior or unauthorized access, changing compromised passwords, and reporting suspicious QR codes to appropriate authorities, website administrators, or the organization associated with it.


1. Source Verification

Reputable sources, such as businesses, government agencies, or well-known organizations, typically distribute authentic QR codes. Official websites, trusted brands, and reliable contacts are more likely to send legitimate QR codes. Avoid QR codes in emails, texts, or posters without clear branding or contact information. Scammers often use such sources to disseminate fraudulent principles. Consider the context of the QR code before scanning it. An email containing a QR code claiming to be from the bank but with an unfamiliar email address or spelling errors must be avoided. Ensure the source is a legitimate business or organization, even offline, such as in-store displays or printed advertisements. Check for company logos, contact details, and official website information to confirm the source's authenticity.


2. QR Code Content

Another critical aspect to consider when identifying a fake QR code is its content. The information encoded within a QR code must align with the context in which it is encountered. The real QR code is not supposed to lead to an entirely different website or phone number if presented as a link to a website. Discrepancies between the code's purpose and its content are clear indicators of potential fraud. Look out for excessive data or oddly formatted information that seems unnecessary or out of place, as it suggests a QR code that must be approached with caution. Ensure that the QR code's content serves the intended purpose and is not hiding malicious intent by scrutinizing its content.


3. URL Inspection


It is critically important to inspect the URL of any QR code that links to a website if it is intended to lead to one. Take a close look at the displayed web address before scanning. A URL that appears unfamiliar, misspelled, or with an unusual domain extension is a warning sign. For instance, be cautious if a QR code that takes users to a trusted e-commerce site directs them to a different domain. Cybercriminals often use deceptive URLs to redirect users to malicious websites designed for phishing or spreading malware. Ensure the URL starts with “https://” and not “http://”. Checking the URL meticulously reduces the risk of becoming a victim of counterfeit QR codes that deceive users into visiting harmful websites.


4. Use a QR Code Scanner App

A dedicated QR code scanner app is one of the safest practices when encountering a QR code. QR code scanner apps are designed to scan and decode QR codes securely, protecting fake or malicious codes. Safest QR scanners often have features that detect and warn scanners about potential threats. Scan QR codes with a trusted QR code scanner app to ensure they are scanned accurately and discover what they lead to. Using a dedicated QR code scanning app offers additional security and peace of mind, making it an essential step in protecting against fraudulent QR codes.


5. Analyze the Design

Examining the design and visual characteristics of a QR code is an often overlooked but valuable step in identifying fake QR codes. Real QR codes are typically well-crafted, featuring clear, crisp patterns with high contrast and a precise layout. Fake or tampered QR codes mostly exhibit visual imperfections, such as blurriness, irregularities in the square dots (known as modules), or inconsistent coloring. The anomalies are telltale signs of a manipulated code. Check the QR code closely for any visual irregularities indicating an attempt to deceive or lead to fraudulent content. QR code scanning is enhanced by paying attention to the design and reducing the risk of encountering deceptive codes by paying attention to the design.


6. Look for Errors

Spotting errors, whether the errors are spelling, grammatical, or formatting mistakes, is an essential strategy in identifying fake QR codes. Cybercriminals and scammers generally do not pay meticulous attention to detail when creating fraudulent QR codes, resulting in inaccuracies or inconsistencies in the information presented. The errors manifest as typos, awkward phrasing, or irregular formatting within the code's content or instructions. Scrutinize QR codes for apparent discrepancies in the text or accompanying information. Detecting errors indicates that the code is not legitimate. Keeping an eye out for mistakes enables scanners to be a vigilant gatekeeper, safeguarding QR codes against potential harm.


7. Check for Redundant Information

Another effective way to discern a fake QR code is to examine its content for unnecessary or redundant information. Genuine QR codes are typically designed with a clear and specific purpose. For example, a QR code leading to a website must contain the website's URL but nothing more. In contrast, counterfeit QR codes are generally overloaded with excessive data or include information unrelated to the intended function. It is a deliberate attempt to confuse or mislead scanners. Be cautious if there are too many extraneous details, as it signifies an attempt to deceive or potentially malicious intentions. It is easy to protect the self from unwanted surprises and threats by filtering out QR codes with redundant information.


8. Use an Online QR Code Scanner

Consider using an online QR code scanner for an additional layer of security when dealing with QR codes. These web-based tools help people analyze QR codes by providing insights into the content and origins of the codes. Online QR code scanners often have databases to cross-reference the code against known fraudulent patterns or malicious content. It is conducive when not knowing about the legitimacy of a QR code and wanting a quick assessment before scanning it with the smartphone. Utilizing an online QR code scanner adds an extra layer of safety to identifying and avoiding fake QR codes.


9. Pay Attention to Permissions

It is essential to pay attention to the permissions a QR code asks for when scanning it, particularly with a smartphone or mobile device. Some QR codes prompt the device to grant access to specific functionalities, such as the camera, location, or contact list. The permissions must align with the QR code's intended purpose. Unrelated or excessive permissions indicate a fake or malicious QR code. For instance, a QR code that's supposed to provide a simple website link must not request access to the location data. Always exercise caution and be selective in granting permissions to maintain privacy when dealing with QR codes. It's best to avoid scanning license codes if something seems amiss.


10. Trust Your Instincts

It's essential to trust your instincts regarding digital security and QR code scanning. Feeling uneasy about a QR code must not be ignored. Trust your instincts and exercise caution. It's better not to scan a code if the source appears untrustworthy, the content seems suspicious, or any other warning signs are present. Your intuition often plays a significant role in keeping you safe online. Remember that a moment of hesitation or skepticism prevents you from falling victim to scams, phishing attempts, or fraudulent QR codes. Trusting your gut feeling is a simple yet powerful way to ensure digital safety.


Why is it Important to Recognize a Fake QR Code?

Recognizing a fake QR code is important due to the potential risks of falling victim to fraudulent codes. Fake QR codes lead to various threats, including online scams, malware downloads, identity theft, financial scams, and compromising personal data and privacy.


Fraudulent QR codes lead to phishing attacks, where cybercriminals trick individuals into divulging personal information, such as login credentials or financial data, by redirecting users to malicious websites that mimic trusted entities. Fake QR codes deliver malware to the device, compromising its security and privacy. Such QR codes facilitate financial scams, wherein unsuspecting individuals are lured into making payments to fraudulent accounts. QR code authenticity plays a critical role in safeguarding the integrity of digital transactions and protecting sensitive data in today's increasingly digitalized world, underscoring the importance of identifying fake QR codes.


Why do Fake QR Codes Exist?

Fake QR codes exist for various nefarious purposes, primarily driven by the intent to deceive, steal, or defraud. Cybercriminals and scammers employ fraudulent QR codes to conduct phishing attacks, spread malware, or facilitate financial scams. The fake codes are typically used to redirect unsuspecting individuals to malicious websites designed to steal sensitive personal information, such as login credentials or credit card information. Public awareness of these schemes is growing, but some people are not aware of the telltale signs of fake codes, which makes the public vulnerable to fraud. Tech companies, government agencies, and security experts are working to develop tools and educational initiatives to detect and combat these fraudulent codes, striving to make digital transactions and QR code usage more secure. The battle against fake QR codes remains ongoing as perpetrators continually adapt and develop new tactics to deceive and exploit unsuspecting individuals.


What to do After Scanning an Unverified QR Code

After scanning an unverified QR code, it's essential to take immediate precautions. Disable the device's internet connection immediately if it appears that the QR code is malicious. Do not enter sensitive information when prompted by a QR code or a linked website. Passwords, credit card details, or any other personal information are included. Close an opened browser or app immediately after scanning the code to prevent further interaction with potentially harmful content. Antivirus and security software are good tools for detecting malware on the device. Potential threats are seen and removed with antivirus programs. Be alert to any unusual behavior or unauthorized access to the device. Passwords must be changed after being compromised. Consider reporting a QR code that appears malicious or fraudulent to the appropriate authorities, website administrators, or the organization that seems to represent it.


What are the Best Trusted QR Code Scanner Apps?

The best trusted QR code scanner apps are listed below.


  • Kaspersky QR Scanner: Kaspersky QR Scanner is a mobile application developed by the renowned cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab. The Kaspersky QR code scanner app is available for both Android and iOS devices and is highly regarded for its emphasis on security and malware detection. Kaspersky's extensive database of known threats and its real-time scanning capabilities help protect users from potentially malicious content embedded within QR codes.
  • QR Code Reader by Scan: QR Code Reader by Scan, Inc. is a popular and reliable QR code scanning application available for both Android and iOS devices. Users quickly and accurately scan QR codes, providing easy access to the information embedded within the codes with the QR code reader. It's widely appreciated for its speed and accuracy, making it a practical choice for individuals and businesses looking for a trusted QR code scanning solution.
  • QR Code Reader by Scanbot: The Scanbot Barcode Scanner SDK is a versatile and robust tool for businesses and developers seeking to integrate QR code scanning and data extraction capabilities into the applications. Users scan different types of matrix codes, including 1D and 2D codes like barcodes, micro QR codes, Aztecs, etc, by using Scanbot’s QR code reader.
  • QR & Barcode Scanner by Gamma Play: QR & Barcode Scanner by Gamma Play is a popular mobile application available on Android devices for scanning QR codes and barcodes. The app is known for its user-friendly interface and efficient scanning capabilities. The app's simplicity and speed have made it a favored choice among Android users looking for a reliable and easy-to-use QR code and barcode scanner.
  • Google Lens: Google Lens, a versatile image recognition tool developed by Google, includes a built-in QR code reader feature. Android and iOS devices scan QR codes quickly and accurately with Google Lens. Google Lens offers a seamless and integrated solution for QR code scanning, making it a convenient choice for users who want to access information, websites, or services by simply pointing their smartphone's camera at QR codes.


Are there QR Scanners that can detect Fraud QR Codes?

Yes, there are QR scanners that can detect fraudulent QR codes. QR scanner apps developed by antivirus companies like Kaspersky are used to check the safety of scanned links. The apps detect phishing scams, forced downloads, and other malicious links. The Safest QR scanner tools incorporate various security features to verify the authenticity of the QR code and the linked content. The security features check for inconsistencies, such as whether the URL matches the displayed text or the QR code uses a standard encoding format. Some QR code scanning apps identify known patterns of fraudulent codes and warn users if the codes encounter a suspicious or potentially malicious QR code.


What are the Dangers of Fake QR Codes?

The Dangers of Fake QR codes are listed below.


  • Malware and Viruses: Scanning a fake QR code leads to the download and installation of malicious software or viruses on the device. The malware steals sensitive information, damages the device, or compromises privacy.
  • Phishing Attacks: Fraudulent QR codes direct users to fake websites designed to mimic legitimate ones. The sites trick users into entering personal information, such as usernames, passwords, or credit card details, which are used for identity theft or financial fraud.
  • Financial Fraud: Scammers create QR codes that link to payment requests, allowing fraudsters to siphon funds from the accounts. The fake payment requests look convincing, making it easy to fall victim to financial scams.
  • Data Theft: Fake QR codes are sometimes designed to access the device's camera, microphone, or other sensitive information, potentially enabling unauthorized access to personal data.
  • Unauthorized Access: Cybercriminals use fake QR codes to gain access to restricted areas or systems, posing a physical security threat to individuals or organizations.
  • Reputation Damage: Businesses and organizations suffer reputation damage and loss of trust from fake QR codes, especially if customers fall victim to scams using fake QR codes.
  • Privacy Invasion: Fake QR codes track the current location or collect data about scanners' activities without consent, leading to privacy concerns.


What should you do if Accidentally Clicked a Link from a Fake QR Code?

You should take immediate steps to mitigate potential risks if accidentally click a link from a fake QR code.


  1. Disconnect from the Internet. Turn off the device's Wi-Fi and mobile data to prevent further data transfer between the device and the malicious site. It helps stop any ongoing attacks or data exfiltration.
  2. Run a Security Scan. Install a reputable antivirus or security app to examine the device for malware or viruses. Follow the app's instructions to remove or quarantine any threats detected.
  3. Change Passwords. Change the passwords for affected accounts immediately if the login credentials were used on the fraudulent website. Make sure to use strong, unique passwords for each account.
  4. Monitor Financial Accounts. Check the bank and credit card statements for unauthorized transactions if the user provided any financial information or made payments on the fake website. Report any suspicious activity to the financial institution.
  5. Update the Device. Ensure the device's operating system, apps, and security software are up to date. Manufacturers often release updates to patch security vulnerabilities.
  6. Check for Permissions. Review the permissions granted to the app for scanning the QR code. Consider uninstalling it and using another, more reputable QR code scanner if it requires excessive or unnecessary permissions.
  7. Contact Customer Support. Contact the actual organization's customer support or IT department if redirected to a fake website impersonating a legitimate service or business.
  8. Report the Incident. Inform the fake QR code incident to local law enforcement or cybercrime authorities. Report it to organizations like the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) or the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).


Can Fake QR Codes be Placed in Flyers?

Yes, fake QR codes can be placed on flyers. Flyers are a common medium for distributing QR codes, both legitimate and fraudulent. Cybercriminals design deceptive flyers with QR codes that appear to offer discounts, promotions, or access to exclusive content. The fake QR codes, however, lead to malicious websites, phishing attempts, and other fraudulent activities. It's crucial for individuals to exercise caution when scanning QR code flyers and ensure the codes are from trusted and reputable sources. Using a reputable QR code scanning app and being mindful of the context in which the flyer is received help reduce the risk of falling victim to fake QR code scams.


Is verifying the source of a QR code important to avoid potential scams?

Yes, verifying the source of a QR code is important to avoid potential scams and security risks. Scanning a QR code without knowing its source leads to various dangers, such as malware downloads, phishing attacks, and financial fraud. Ensure the QR code comes from a trusted and legitimate source to minimize the risks. It is done by verifying the origin of the code, checking if it's associated with a reputable brand or entity, and confirming its presence on official documents or websites. A reliable QR code scanning app provides an extra layer of security by checking the code's authenticity and content, thus helping users make informed decisions and stay protected from fraudulent QR code schemes.


Should you be cautious If the QR code's content promises unrealistic rewards?

Yes, you should be cautious if the QR code’s content promises unrealistic rewards, especially when it seems too good to be true. Scammers often use the lure of extravagant prizes, discounts, or rewards to entice individuals into scanning fake QR codes. The promises lead to phishing attempts, malware downloads, or financial scams. It's essential to approach such QR codes skeptically and consider the adage: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Research the source, verify its authenticity, and ensure the offer is legitimate, before scanning. Be cautious, and if in doubt, avoid scanning the QR code and, if possible, report it to the relevant authorities or the organization it claims to represent.


Can QR Codes Be Dangerous?

Yes, QR codes can be dangerous. QR codes can be exploited by malicious individuals for harmful purposes despite their convenience and efficiency. Fake or malicious QR codes lead to various security risks, including malware and virus downloads, phishing attacks, identity theft, financial fraud, and privacy invasion. Users who scan QR codes without verifying the source or content inadvertently expose their personal data to the risks. Be cautious when scanning QR codes, use reputable QR code scanning apps, and watch for the sources and context in which QR codes appear, especially in promotional materials.


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