When you scan a QR code, beware – it may be fake. These patterns of small black and white squares are a development of the barcode but much more powerful. They are proliferating: you can now even see them on postage stamps. But, like any new technology, thieves are hijacking them for their own criminal purposes.
If you scan a QR code with your smartphone camera, you will be taken straight to a website. One popular use is in car parks, where a QR code will take you automatically to the operator’s site so you can pay for your parking. But beware – thieves are sticking their own QR codes over the real ones. They take you to the thieves’ own website, where you will be asked to input personal details – including your phone number and, of course, the numbers on your payment card.
Not only will the criminals take the money for the parking fee and leave you liable to a penalty notice from the real car park operator, they will also harvest all that information. A few days later, they will call you on your phone – they have your number, of course – claiming to be from your bank, another trusted firm or even the police.
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Even if you have any suspicions, they will already have enough of your personal information to convince you that they are genuine. They will then take you down the well-trodden fraud path by saying your money is at risk, they can protect it, and you need to cooperate with them in moving it to a safe account. Which is, of course, their account – from where your money will soon vanish.
Some car park operators have now removed QR codes because of this risk. If you see one on a machine in a car park or anywhere else outdoors where it’s supposed to connect you to a payment service, check the code carefully to see if it looks original or has been pasted over the real one. If you have any doubts, do not use it. It’s always safer to use a parking app or to pay at a machine with a card, or even coins, if it will let you.