CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — There's no question about it. In the spring of 2020, our lives changed forever. One of the big changes included QR codes. They’ve been around since the 1990’s but not until the pandemic did the QR code become a sign of the times. But along with it, came scammers.
As we learned how to use the technology, crooks seemed to always be at least one step ahead of us.
And now? With more of using the codes than ever before, the number of cases is on the rise.
They're literally, a sign of the times. Wherever you look, there they are.
Q-R codes are a form of touchless communication with their popularity on the rise.
At first, "It kind of threw me off a little bit,” said Allen Price of Corpus Christi. “I wasn't sure how to use it.”
It took a little while, though just like many of us, to get use to and then after some practice, for Price, at least, it became second nature.
“It was actually a pretty easy tool,” Price told us as he ate dinner at one of his favorite hangouts at Grub Burger on South Staples.
He began using the code here since you can find him here at least a couple of times a week.
“Just love the atmosphere,” Price said about the restaurant. “Love the staff. The food is always good. It's always fresh.”
The codes are convenient, easy to use, and found mostly everywhere you go these days.
Price likened it to a similar situation where crooks steal your information. “It's just like the credit card swiped at the gas station,” he said.
That’s when scammers cracked the code by using skimmers to get your information.
And now? Scammers are cracking the QR code to steal your money or personal info.
All you have to do is use your phone's QR code reader and it could lead to, what you might call, a crook's Christmas!
We asked Katie Galan of the Better Business Bureau of the Coastal Bend how big the problem is. Her response, “It is becoming increasingly popular among scammers. It's going to get worse before it gets better. Scammers absolutely take advantage of what's going on at that moment and that right now happens to be QR codes.”
Galan’s warning? Be acreful where you're aiming your phones these days.
There's a chance that seemingly harmless QR code may have just opened up a world of problems.
Scanning a QR code is like clicking a link that could expose you to just about anything.
Thing is, you have no idea where it's going to take you since you never get to see the link when the code opens up to the web.
So how do you protect yourself? Is there a full proof way not to get scammed? Galan told us, “there are actually apps you can install on your device.”
Meaning rather than scanning the QR code with your phone's camera, instead to your app store and find QR scanner apps that have security features that will do the heavy lifting and check for suspicious content.
“So the biggest way that we can protect ourselves just to make sure that you're only scanning a QR code if you're actually inside of a restaurant,” Galan urges but even then she says, proceed with caution.
“You need to make sure your info is not going to a site with malware,” she reminds us. ‘You're sitting at the restaurant and you see the code, just kind of check to make sure there's not one that's maybe stickered on top of it and make sure no one has tampered with it.”
And that's not all. What happens when you get an email or text message with a QR code?
"As with anything else, Galan urges, “if you receive an unsolicited text message or email from someone that you don't know, never ever click on anything that's inside of those emails or text messages.”
Here are some simple rules to follow.
- Don't scan QR codes in public places. You have no idea where they came from.
- Check to see if the code's been tampered with. Some scammers place their own code right on top of the real one.
- If you see QR codes stuck to a wall or floor, then that’s definitely a red flag.
And if the QR code's not on a sticker, experts say, forget about it.
As for Allen Prices, there’s pro’s and con’s. “It did help with safety but it took away from the experience.”
Price says he goes to places he feels comfortable using the QR code reader.
"I go to certain places that I trust their technology,” he told us. “I trust their firewalls if you would say.”
We asked him if there are times when you are at a place that you’re not familiar with and if he’d use the Q-R codes? “Not usually, no,” he replied. “I'd rather speak with somebody at that point.”
And with more and more cases making headlines, expert advise you to always make sure you do your homework before scanning that code.
So what happens if you fall victim to this scam?
Once you scan the code, it'll redirect you to another website which could be a phishing website or a website trying to get your info. You could also be installing malware onto your device. That's software that basically swipes all the information on your device.