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In honor of my Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Gabriella Samuels is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Margaret Danniher.

QR codes are present everywhere, from contactless payments to advertising to restaurant menus. The popularity of QR codes increased during the height of COVID-19, as the product helped reduce germ transmission and offer a paperless method for sharing information.

Originally invented in 1994, by Japanese company Denso Wave for labelling automobile parts, QR code or “quick-response code,” have now been adopted for commercial use. Today, the array of small black and white squares are used for storing URLs or other information, and scanned with smartphone cameras.

The issue, however, arises when QR codes are linked to malicious website or malware. By just looking at them, it is impossible to tell their legitimacy.

Scammers are creating their own QR codes,  making them into stickers, and placing them on top of the legitimate ones. Through your smartphone permissions, such as your GPS information, browser history, camera access, internet access, contact list, and other local files may be accessed using QR codes.

The Federal Trade Bureau and the Better Business Bureau have issued alerts on the increasing QR scams, cautioning against scanning codes from untrusted companies.

Some ways to combat QR scams, according to experts are:

  • Avoid scanning QR codes in public places
  • Use the preview feature on your smartphone to check the link before clicking
  • Avoid scanning QR codes in emails
  • Change passwords often and use a password manager to combat auto-filling your information on websites
  • Confirm a QR code before you scan

If you believe you have been the victim of a QR code scam or other financial fraud, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at reportfraud.ftc.gov.