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QR Code Fraud

There is a new wave of fraud arising from the use of QR (Quick Response) codes, or small bar code like images that frequently appear on company advertisements or product packaging.  Consumers are able to scan the QR code using the camera feature of their smartphone, and by doing so are automatically directed to the sponsoring company’s website.  Many companies make use of these as a way to establish an instant connection between themselves and their customer base.  Customers, on the other hand, are often motivated to scan a code in order to receive a discount, coupon, or special promotion.  

Because of its design, or lack thereof, a QR code can never be fully authenticated by the human eye.  As a result, many unscrupulous individuals are taking full advantage by attempting to trick users into scanning a false quick response code that ends up linking their smartphone to a harmful website.  The fraudster will either place a false QR code sticker over a legitimate code, or will simply add the false code to an advertisement that lacks one.  Either way they got the desired effect.

In 2011 a large fraud ring making use of this tactic was discovered in Russia.  The perpetrator’s means of operation was surprisingly simple.   They would create a mass supply of false codes that would then be distributed into the public using posters and advertisements designed in a way to entice the user to further explore.  Once the user scanned the code, their smartphone was auto-directed to a website built specifically – and maliciously – to siphon money from its victims via the smartphone connection.

The global use of QR codes is on the rise with nearly every major industry getting involved.  Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter now enable users to “like” an advertisement or product simply by scanning its accompanying QR code.  What’s more, many well-known companies are exploring ways in which the scanning of QR codes would serve as a payment method for various products or services.

It is important to protect yourself from the threat of Quick Response code fraud.  Before scanning a code, ask yourself the following questions:   Does the code appear to be printed on a sticker?  Does it appear out of place on the advertisement?  Have you heard of the company or product in which the QR code is attached?  QR code fraud, like most fraud, can be prevented by using very basic defense mechanisms that are inherent to us all.

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