QR codes have become ubiquitous, driven to even wider use by pandemic concerns. Lots of restaurants now offer their menu through QR codes, sometimes only on QR codes. Emarketer estimates that 76 million people in the U.S. scanned a QR code in 2021, up 44% over 2019. When something gets popular, the scammers will not be far behind.

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Here are five tips for safe QR codes.

  1. Look at the URL. When you point your phone’s camera at a QR code, you get a preview of the URL. If it’s a short link or something unrecognizable, proceed with caution as you would with any link. Make sure it’s going to take you where you expect to go.
  2. Check the URL in the browser after you tap. It may have said it was taking you to the restaurant’s website then took you to a clever phishing site copy of it. Check that URL to be sure.
  3. Don’t log in after a QR code tap. There are going to be times where you will need to, but be very cautious about it. In fact, be wary of giving any personal information to a site you reached through a QR code.
  4. Don’t download apps from a QR code. A common scam is to promote fun new apps on a QR code, and the fun part is when it installs malware and steals your personal information. It’s fun for the attacker. Not for you.
  5. Be careful about paying. Don’t make payments through a QR code unless you’re absolutely certain it is legitimate, which would probably mean you’re in China using WeChat or AliPay. In other countries, payments are less common by QR code, so make absolutely sure it’s legit.

QR codes aren’t dangerous; they’re just links. So, treat them with the same security approach you would give to a link you saw somewhere on the internet.

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