Jul 05 2023
Understanding QR Code Risks, Scams, Examples & Best Security Practices

Understanding QR Code Risks, Scams, Examples & Best Security Practices – Part 2

In Part 1: What is a QR Code? Its Usage, Vulnerability, Advantages, and Comeback Story, we outlined the usage of QR code adoption across different industries, types of QR codes available, its advantages and how QR code comeback and changed the digital landscape extensively.

It’s been a while since we posted the first blog post and it’s time for an update on QR code. In this post, we’ll be talking about recent examples of QR code scams, how QR Code could be dangerous and most importantly best security practices that you need to take care to stay protective whether you are a user or an enterprise from QR Code attacks.


QR codes are indeed bread and butter, especially in today’s world where things have gone completely digital. It is a two-dimensional barcode that stores 7089 digits, or 4296 characters.

QR codes have many advantages for users and enterprises, but bad actors can also take advantage of them. Therefore, everyone should keep these risks and scams that we are going to witness in this blog in mind and learn how to avoid them. But the devil is in the details.

This article delves into the potential dangers of QR codes, highlights real-life scams, and offers valuable insights on how to improve security measures, and empower individuals to confidently access the QR code environment. Let’s first get to the nitty-gritty of QR codes, a tool for cyberattacks.

QR Code – A Tool for Cyberattacks

QR Codes are very popular in their way and are used for transferring information, which is done just by scanning the QR code using your scanner. In recent years, along with the sudden hike in the usage of QR codes, it has become a tool for cybercriminals to spread malware, steal personal information, and attempt to steal money from an individual’s bank account. Here are the basic and significant ways used by the scammers to attempt the crime:

QR Code – A Tool for Cyberattacks

  • Tampered QR Code

    When attacking using a tampered QR code, the risk that the QR code can be manipulated is one of the biggest risks associated with its use. Cybercriminals can easily create Quick Response Codes that link to malicious sites or download malware on a user’s device. It may be achieved by placing a sticker or an attachment on top of the current QR code, which is difficult to identify.

  • Malicious Websites

    In attacks through malicious websites, the scammers generate a QR code, and when scanned, the users are redirected to the malicious websites, which look the same as the original.

    In addition, a QR code may be used to give users information about fake websites that seem genuine but are stealing personal data. A QR code may be placed on a product in retail stores that can lead users to the fake login page of their bank account. The details will be forwarded to the cybercriminals, who may use them for fraudulent activity after they have entered their login credentials.

  • Malware

    Another possibility of creating a risk for QR codes is the spread of malware. Cybercriminals can create Quick Response codes that automatically download malware onto a user’s device when scanned. It is then possible for that malware to infect additional equipment on the same network, which could result in considerable damage.

  • Phishing Scams

    Another important risk associated with these QR codes is phishing. Cybercriminals can also create fake QR codes that look like they come from legitimate sources, such as a bank or government agency. The user is directed to a fake website that asks for personal information as soon as they scan the QR code. For instance, the information is used to carry out fraudulent activities like identity theft.

  • Data Privacy Risks

    The risk to data protection may also arise from using QR codes. Users may provide access to sensitive information, such as their location or personal preferences, when they scan a QR code. Hackers can use this information to track users’ activities or steal personal data. Users should not provide sensitive information unless it is necessary to protect data privacy.

    It is possible to mitigate these risks and ensure that QR codes are used safely and securely. As technology evolves, there will undoubtedly be innovations and solutions to enhance QR code security, and it will be important for users and enterprises alike to stay informed and adapt to these changes.

Several warning signs can help you identify potential QR code fraudulent activity.

  1. Be cautious when you receive a QR code from an unknown source or an unsolicited message.
  2. Be vigilant. Fraudsters always use fake QR codes to lure the victim.
  3. Be aware that if you spot a damaged or suspicious QR code in public places, avoid scanning.
  4. Beware of QR codes that look too good to be true, such as advertisements offering huge discounts or free products.

Dangers of QR Codes

QR codes are present everywhere in our daily lives. However, the risks associated with the use of QR codes are often overlooked and disregarded in the convenience of their use.

Dangers of QR Codes

  • Insecure Payment Systems

    In terms of payment transactions, QR Codes are being used more and more. However, the security of these payment systems may be jeopardized when you do not encrypt your QR codes properly. Payment transactions can be intercepted by hackers who may take confidential data such as credit card numbers. Only use reliable payment systems using encryption to ensure the confidentiality of data to avoid this risk.

  • Fake Product Reviews

    Businesses often use QR codes to collect product reviews from their customers. And con artists may create phony QR codes to cause false reviews, which distort a product’s true rating. This practice is widespread on online shopping platforms, where promoting products with false reviews leads consumers to buy lower-quality goods. Always check for reviews from different sources and ensure the QR code is authentic before you can scan it to eliminate this risk.

  • Inappropriate Content

    The potential risk of these QR codes is that they can lead to inappropriate content. For example, images or videos which may be graphic and traumatizing to children can arise from a QR code placed in an open space. The content of the QR code should be verified before its scan to avoid this risk, particularly where it’s being scanned in open areas.

  • Unsecured Connections

    If the QR code leads to an unauthorized connection, it can also be dangerous. A QR code, in particular, will lead users to an unprotected WIFI network where they could lose their device and confidential information. Before connecting to a network, verifying that the connection is secure is important.

  • Lack of Transparency

    QR codes can be used in ways that lack transparency. For instance, a QR code could be added to the product, leading users to an Internet site that will collect private information even if its purpose is not explicitly stated. It is a possible breach of privacy law to use QR codes this way, which raises concerns.

Types of QR Code Scams

Fraudsters use QR codes to give unsuspecting victims access to false websites or download dangerous programs onto their devices. To protect yourself, all of you need to know about a few types of QR code scams.

Types of QR Code Scams

  1. QR Code Phishing Scams

    In this type of scam, cybercriminals send QR codes through emails, flyers, letters, or social media messages. Scanning the QR code leads victims to fake websites that imitate trusted organizations, such as banks. The victims are prompted to enter their personal data or login credentials, which are then captured by the attackers.

  2. Face-to-Face QR Scam

    Criminals approach individuals in real life and ask them to scan a QR code for various reasons, such as paying for a parking space or helping with money for transportation. Scanning the QR code gives the criminals access to the victim’s online banking information, leading to financial loss.

  3. Online Marketplace Method

    Scammers on online marketplaces pretend to be interested in purchasing goods and request the seller to scan a QR code to verify their bank account details. However, scanning the QR code grants the scammers access to the seller’s bank account, resulting in money loss.

  4. QR Code Viruses

    Cybercriminals can embed links to websites containing viruses and malware into QR codes. Scanning such QR codes can lead to automatic downloads of malicious software, compromising sensitive data and potentially installing keyloggers or other harmful programs on the victim’s device.

  5. QR Payment Fraud

    This type of fraud involves tampering with QR codes or placing fraudulent codes in locations where online payments are made. Criminals may cover up legitimate QR codes or create fake ones to trick victims into making payments to their accounts instead.
    QR Payment Fraud

  6. QR Code Crypto Scams (Bitcoin)

    QR codes are commonly used in cryptocurrency transactions. Scammers may tamper with QR codes to deceive users into transferring cryptocurrency to their wallets under false pretences, such as promising a double return on investment. However, victims end up losing their money without receiving any returns.

Recent examples of QR Code Scams

Recent examples of QR Code Scams

  • Cryptocurrency scam

    Cryptocurrency scam involves the use of malicious QR codes that trick users into sending money to the wrong wallet. Scammers are constantly creating fraudulent QR codes that appear to be legitimate, which result in unsuspecting users turning over their cryptocurrencies into the scammer’s wallet.  These frauds may take the form of fake websites, social media platforms, or even physical stickers. The authenticity of the QR codes must be double checked by users before performing a transaction and after verifying their recipient’s wallet address using trusted sources.

  • Fake QR code scanner

    Fake QR code scanner apps pose a significant threat to smartphone users. These malicious applications pretend to be legitimate QR code scanners but, once installed, secretly download malware onto the device. The malware can steal sensitive information, such as login credentials, banking details, or personal data. To avoid falling victim to such scams, users should only download QR code scanner apps from trusted sources like official app stores, read reviews before installation, and keep their devices updated with the latest security patches. Regularly scanning devices for malware is also advisable.

  • Phishing Email QR Codes Scams

    In this scam, an attacker creates a QR code that appears to be legitimate and inserts it into the email or text message. The code will result in a fake website identical to an actual one, for example, the bank’s website. The attacker could use this to access your accounts or steal your identity when the victim enters their login credentials and other sensitive information on a fake site.

  • Tampered QR Codes in Public Places

    A fraudster may place a sticker with a tampered QR code over a legitimate code on a restaurant’s menu to mislead customers to a fake payment page where their credit card information has been stolen. Verifying the validity of a QR code before scanning it is important, such as looking for any signs of alteration and contacting companies or organizations to authenticate its authenticity if you are exposed to this scam.

    A new type of attack has been happening recently: Denial-of-Service (DoS) QR Code Attack. Attackers can create QR Codes which overload the device with traffic, causing it to malfunction or become unresponsive when scanned. It’s called a Denial Of Service Attack and often disrupts Internet services.

Importance of QR Code Security Practices

Implementing security best practices is crucial for protecting user data, preventing fraud, controlling application security, and compliance with safety standards. Organizations using QR codes should prioritize security to protect their customers and businesses. QR codes are vulnerable to security threats; hackers can exploit them to transmit viruses, steal data and launch phishing attacks.

QR Code Security Tips

Essential QR Code Security Practice

  • Educating users on identifying and verifying QR codes before they are scanned is a very important security practice.
  • Users should be careful when viewing QR codes from foreign sources or scanning codes solely from trusted sources.
  • The hackers may be able to generate a fake QR code that seems legitimate but is designed to deceive users so they can provide them with information or download an infected piece of software. So avoid scanning the QR code if something seems off. Visit the website directly. Any legitimate QR code must have a hyperlinked URL that consumers can utilize to go there immediately.
  • The use of certified QR readers is another important security practice.
  • Always scan the code in a secure environment; a secure reader can prevent malicious codes from being executed on the user’s device.
  • To protect against new threats, users should only use QR code readers from trusted sources and ensure they are updated regularly.
  • The most important security practice is Encryption. Encryption is also a fundamental security practice in the context of QR codes.

Tips To Protect Yourself When Using QR Codes

Tips To Protect Yourself When Using QR Codes

  • Check the Source

    If scanning a QR code, check if it comes from an authorized source. It would help if you had visual clues like a company logo or branding to ensure the information is authentic.

  • Check the URL

    Double-check the URL to ensure it’s the correct site after scanning the QR code that leads to the website. A hacker can design fake websites that look exactly like genuine ones but have slightly altered URLs.

  • Avoid Using Public Wi-Fi Networks

    The best way to avoid using public Wi fi networks when scanning QR codes is not to use them. The networks are usually unprotected and can be easy to access by hackers.

  • Dynamic QR codes

    It can be another way to enhance the security of these codes. Dynamic QR codes can update with new information instead of having unchanging data that cannot be changed when a code is generated. Businesses that need to update their QR codes regularly may benefit from this, as it allows them to amend the code’s destination URL or any additional information necessary.

  • Code With Security Features

    Use a code with security features that can detect and block malicious QR codes: Some readers have built-in security features which allow the detection and blocking of unwanted QR codes. Look for a reader with these features, and make the most of them whenever possible.

  • Trusted Code Source

    Only scan QR codes from trusted sources.

  • Destination Verification

    Verify the destination URL before scanning a QR code.

  • No Tampered and Altered Codes

    Avoid scanning QR codes that appear to be tampered with or altered.

  • Reputed Scanning Application

    Use a reputable QR code scanner app that checks for malicious content. Regularly update your device’s security software and operating system.

Things you need to know about protecting yourself against QR code attacks

Using QR codes by users and organizations must be ensured with good security practices not to compromise their integrity.

For Users

To start with, you should avoid scanning QR codes from unknown sources. Cyber attackers can create counterfeit QR codes that may lead to phishing sites or malware downloads. Therefore, you should only look for codes from authenticated sources like the Official website or licensed applications. To find out if there are any potential hazards, you can also take advantage of the QR code scanner app, which includes a security check.

In addition, you should be aware of QR codes that offer suspicious or too-good-to-be-true deals. Scammers could use the QR codes to get you to disclose your information or make fraudulent transactions. If the QR code says there’s a bargain to be had that doesn’t sound good, then surely it is. Before scanning a QR code, verifying the legitimacy of an offer and its source is always advisable.

Furthermore, you should ensure that your device’s operating system and security applications are current. Regularly updating your device’s software will help repair any vulnerabilities that hackers might use to hack into your device using QR codes. To protect your device against possible threats, you should also use reliable security software, including Antimalware and Anti-phishing features.

For individual users, the security risks associated with using a QR code are mainly caused by the opportunity to scan viruses that could result in Phishing Attacks, Malware downloads, or identity theft. Users should also carefully scan code in anonymous mail or messages and verify the destination URL before clicking any links.

Finally, when granting permissions to applications using QR codes, be careful. Some apps may request access to your phone’s camera, contacts, or other sensitive information that could be used maliciously. To that end, permissions to applications you trust and with an appropriate reason for accessing your data should be granted.


Educating yourself about the different types of attacks and preparing yourself to become a victim and how to handle an attack would help in everyday life. With this information, you can be aware of other cyber-attacks around us.

QR code threats have grown, but you can protect yourself against such attacks by taking simple precautions. If you remain cautious and take the appropriate steps to secure your device, a QR code may be used confidently and safely.

For Enterprises (Business)

From an enterprise perspective, it is important to prevent QR code attacks, as the consequences of an attack can be devastating.

What you need to do to protect yourself  As An Enterprise against QR code attacks

  1. Implement a Mobile Device Security Policy

    Implementing a Mobile Device Security Policy is crucial. It should include guidelines on QR codes, including how to identify genuine ones.

  2. QR Code Verified Tools

    Verification tools may be used to verify the authenticity of QR codes before employees can read them. These tools can detect malicious QR codes and prevent them from being scanned.

  3. Limit Access Control

    Limit access to sensitive information, e.g., passwords and personal data; the QR codes should not be applied. Only authorized personnel should be provided with a QR code if needed.

  4. Regular Software Update

    It is possible to avoid attacks on QR codes by periodically updating software and security systems by fixing vulnerabilities and detecting new threats. It relates not only to operating systems and antivirus software but also to different applications that employees use continuously. Businesses should have procedures that allow them to monitor and apply updates as soon as possible.

  5. Encrypted QR Code

    Using QR codes may increase the risk of a data breach or cyberattack. Businesses need to ensure that their QR code infrastructure, which may include the introduction of a secure encryption protocol, regular software updates, and strong access controls, is safe. It is necessary to implement robust security measures to prevent possible attacks. Secure encryption protocols, regular software updates, and effective access controls may also be used.

  6. Monitor Network Traffic

    Network traffic should be monitored for suspicious activity, including scanning QR codes. And it helps to identify and stop attacks before they have a detrimental effect.

  7. Response Plan

    An emergency response plan should be created to tackle an attack with a QR code. Steps for containing the attack, informing employees, and reporting an incident to law enforcement should be part of this plan.

A multifaceted approach involving technological and nontechnical strategies is needed to prevent attacks. Some techniques are to keep computers up-to-date, use reliable passwords, and install firewalls and antivirus software. Technical measures shall include employee training on the best practices for safe browsing and use of email, establishing a safety culture within the organization, and regular testing and updating of an internal security plan.

Final Thoughts

To protect themselves from QR code attacks, users should always verify the source of the QR code and avoid scanning codes from unknown or untrusted sources. In addition, undertakings may also take steps to protect themselves using QR code generators equipped with special security features, which are regularly monitored for suspected activities. The QR code can be a useful way to communicate information, but we must stay alert and take precautions to avoid becoming victims of attacks on these codes.

An integral part of QR code strategy is to prevent attacks. Training staff to upgrade software, installing access controls using encryption techniques, monitoring network operations, and having an emergency management plan can significantly reduce a business’s chances of being attacked successfully. By undertaking these steps, companies can protect and operate their confidential data.


  1. What are malicious QR code attacks?

    A malicious QR code attack occurs when the codes are deliberately designed to point unsuspecting users toward an infected website or download malware onto their devices. Phishing scams, malware downloads, and phony applications for which users are tricked into providing personal information or downloading viruses onto their computers are commonly used examples of fraudulent QR code attacks.

    It is important to be cautious when scanning QR codes, especially those found in public places or from unknown sources.

  2. What are some vulnerabilities when using a QR code?

    Vulnerability in the QR Code Reader: vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit are present in some of the QR readers. For example, if you have a vulnerability in your reader’s software that could allow hackers to access your device, an infected QR code can exploit it.

    Ensure you use a trusted QR code reader application and keep up to date with your device’s software to take care of known vulnerabilities.

  3. Is there any protection for the users when using QR codes?

    Yes, some measures can be taken to protect users when using QR codes:

    • Always use a trusted QR code scanner app
    • Regularly back up your data to prevent data loss in a cyberattack.
    • Avoid scanning QR codes from unknown sources.
    • Verify the URL before scanning.
    • Beware of the phishing attacks
    • Update your device and apps.
    • Update your device’s security patch.
  4. How can you identify an imposter QR code without scanning it?

    There are a few ways to identify an imposter QR code without scanning it, such as:

    • Check the design of the QR code.
    • Look for errors.
    • Check the location where the QR code is placed.
    • Verify the source.
  5. Which phishing attacks are initiated via the scanning of QR codes?

    QR code phishing attacks can take various forms, but one common tactic is to trick the user into scanning a malicious QR code, leading them to a phishing site or infecting their device with malware.

    Examples of phishing attacks through QR codes are Smishing, Fake apps, Phishing websites, and Malware downloads.

    Make sure to verify the authenticity of the source before scanning any QR codes.

  6. How do I make my QR code more secure?

    Follow the below-mentioned ways to make your QR code more secure:

    • Use a dynamic QR code.
    • Restrict access; only allow users who have the password.
    • Use a URL shortener.
    • Check the destination URL.
    • Avoid using public and free WiFi.
    • Use a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.
    • Encrypt sensitive data.
    • Use a reputable QR code generator.
About the Author

Pratik Jogi

Pratik Jogi is a cybersecurity visionary with an Electronics & Communications Engineering degree. He holds esteemed certifications like Microsoft MCSE and MVP. With over two decades dedicated to defending the digital frontier, his expertise in Server, Network, and Cyber Security reflects a genuine commitment to secure digital landscapes against emerging threats.