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4 QR Code Security Tips

Close up of young woman hands using the smart phone to scan the qr code to select food menu in the restaurant.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Scanning

During 2022’s big game, there was a commercial of a lone, colorful QR code that bounced across viewers’ screens and left many people confused. That ad was Coinbase’s QR code that, once scanned, directed people to Coinbase’s website to learn more about buying and selling bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Coinbase’s ad was so successful that its site crashed, and, because of that, many marketers predicted that 2023’s big game would bring about even more QR codes in ads.

And they were right. Ad spots during 2023’s big game proved that QR codes are here to stay and only growing in popularity. From prompting viewers to scan for a chance to earn an NFT to scanning to view full movie trailers, there were numerous instances where viewers were being asked to pull out their phones and take action. Although all the ads’ code was secure, their sense of urgency (requiring viewers to scan quickly before the ad wrapped up) encouraged users not to think before scanning, which creates risky security behaviors.

The increased popularity and use of QR codes has created a new opportunity for fraudsters to use them as another way to access your private information or install malware on your device. Before you scan a QR code from any source, here are some important reminders to keep you and your device safe.

  1. Use a trusted application.

    Most recent smartphones have QR Code readers installed as part of their camera functionality. If your phone doesn’t have this feature yet, be sure to do your research and install a QR code reader that has built-in security features, like checking links against known malicious sites or having a pop-up of the URL destination appear before taking you to a site. Read the user reviews to make a solid decision before installing the first tool that shows up in the app store.

  2. Know the source.

    Never scan a QR code where you can’t confirm the source of the code. This concern was perfectly highlighted by Coinbase’s ad last year, as people scanned it, assuming it was safe, without knowing the source beforehand. It’s best practice to only scan codes from trusted sources, whether it’s on a poster in the street, on a food menu or in an email.

  3. Look out for phishing.

    Fraudsters are now using QR codes to perform phishing attacks. A fraudster may replace a safe QR code from a poster or restaurant table with a tampered one that takes users to a fake version of the trusted site, prompting users to reveal their personal information — which they collect to sell on the dark web. To avoid falling victim to a QR code phishing scheme, feel the QR code (if it’s in person) to ensure it’s not a sticker or a cover-up. If you receive a QR digitally, inspect the email to see if it’s from a trusted sender.

  4. Update your software regularly.

    With cyberattacks on the rise, it’s important to make sure your device is up to date. Many software patches include security features to help protect your private information and personal data, so keeping your phone’s software updated is almost always a good idea. Also, consider downloading an antivirus program to your device for an extra layer of protection.

QR codes aren’t going away anytime soon. While scanning the codes within 2023’s big game ad cycle was perfectly safe, that doesn’t mean it will always be. Like with any link or tool that routes you to a URL, it’s crucial to take a minute to think before taking action.

Would you like some help avoiding common financial scams? Creative Planning is here for you. For more information, schedule a call with a member of our team.

This commentary is provided for general information purposes only, should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.


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