Stay Cautious: Protect Yourself from QR Code Scams During the Holiday Season

During the holiday season, businesses are actively trying to attract customers QR Code Scams, but it’s essential to be aware of fraudsters taking advantage of the busy sales period. Cybercriminals are using QR codes, a common tool, to deceive unsuspecting consumers. Stay cautious and be on the lookout for potential scams.

The SaveThem India Foundation, a non-profit helping cybercrime victims, has observed a steady rise in complaints related to QR code scams through their helpline. People are increasingly reporting incidents of fraud involving QR codes. Stay cautious and report any suspicious activity.

QR Code Scams

The number of complaints about QR code scams to the SaveThem India Foundation has been increasing. In February, there were 74 complaints, and by October, this number rose to 241, the highest recorded so far. By November 8, an additional 49 complaints were filed. According to Pravin Kalaiselvan, the director and founder of SaveThem India Foundation, victims shared incidents where scammers posted fake ads on online platforms, offering items or services that didn’t actually exist. Stay cautious and report any suspicious activities.

Scammers deceived victims by claiming they needed a quick payment and asked them to scan a QR code for a fast and secure transfer. Once the QR code was scanned, an unauthorized transaction occurred, leading to significant financial losses reported, ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,00,000. Stay alert and avoid scanning QR codes from unknown or suspicious sources.

Data from Bengaluru municipal police this month shows that there were over 50,027 reported cybercrime cases in the city between May 31, 2023, and 2017. Out of these, 20,662 cases (41%) were related to fraudulent links, QR codes, or credit/debit card fraud. Experts note that the challenge is compounded by the visual similarities among most QR codes, making it difficult for people to spot differences. Stay cautious and be aware of potential cyber threats.

QR code fraud is not uncommon during public holidays, according to Nader Henein, VP analyst at Gartner. This is because there’s typically an increase in street advertising, leaflets, posters, emails with discounts, and similar promotional materials during holidays. Scammers use QR codes in these materials to make their content appear legitimate. Stay vigilant, especially during holidays, and be cautious of QR codes in various promotions.

According to Henein, the aim of QR code scams is to lead individuals to a compromised website. Once there, malware can be installed on their devices, or they may be directed to a website that looks genuine but is actually compromised. These deceptive sites often request personal information like credit card numbers or banking details. Be cautious and avoid providing sensitive information on unfamiliar websites.

Cybercriminals have found a way to exploit the popularity of QR codes in communication with clients, as explained by Sean Duca, the Chief Security Officer for Palo Alto Networks in the Asia-Pacific region. While creating a QR code is easy, spreading it widely requires effort. This strategy involves placing stickers or posters in multiple locations, putting the malicious QR code on billboards, and replacing authentic codes with malicious ones in places like restaurants, shops, bus stops, and various other locations. Stay cautious and verify QR codes before scanning them.

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Be careful with QR codes as they might lead you to download harmful programs from sketchy app stores. These programs often have nasty stuff like trojans, spyware, or viruses, which can cause ransomware attacks, steal your data, invade your privacy, and in some cases, even mine cryptocurrency on your device. Scammers like to use online markets to spread these deceptive scams, warns Duca. Stick to trustworthy sources when downloading apps to stay safe.

Henein believes that both consumers and the businesses advertising through QR codes share some responsibility. Businesses should communicate to customers about their QR code usage and provide a way for customers to verify what a legitimate QR code looks like. It’s important for everyone to be aware and cautious when dealing with QR codes to avoid falling for scams.

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