How to Spot Fake QR Codes and Avoid Them

Update:  May 03, 2024
How to Spot Fake QR Codes and Avoid Them

Fake QR codes can take your money, hack your device, or steal your identity, turning your scan experience into a nightmare.

Technically speaking, QR codes are safe. But here’s the thing: with great technological advancement comes great cybersecurity risks.

QR codes, when placed in the wrong hands, can lead scanners to malicious sites, downloading malware, and phishing emails.

These fraudulent codes have one purpose: to deceive scanners into giving their personal details and permitting access to their device.

But don’t worry! In this guide, we’ll show you how you can easily detect these fraud QR codes and avoid them like a pro. Let’s dive in.

Are there fake QR codes?

Technically, there are no “fake” quick response (QR) codes. QR codes generated by a QR code generator online are safe.

What makes them “fake” and dangerous is how scammers use them to trick people for their dirty interests.

They usually tamper or replace QR codes with fraudulent ones, so scanners are taken to sites where their sensitive information is vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Simply put, they’re QR codes that have been tampered with for illegal activities, such as stealing personal information, making unauthorized transactions, and infecting your devices with malware.

How does a fake QR code work?

Fraud or malicious QR codes are ones that have been tampered with or replaced by cybercriminals. This makes them unsuspecting to regular people, making them seem like legitimate QR codes.

To make it even trickier, these fake codes are hidden in plain sight or in areas where they’re usually found. 

For example, they can be disguised as a QR code for payment that unsuspecting scanners use to pay, sending their money to scammers instead of official merchants.

More QR scams are making the headlines. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how to check if a QR code is safe to scan and use.

How to spot fake QR codes like a detective

Fake QR codes

Fake QRs are becoming more prevalent. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has repeatedly warned that fake codes have been increasing since 2022. QR code statistics also revealed that QR code phishing incidents are 51% higher in 2023.

Now, this is alarming. That’s why it’s crucial to know how to spot these malicious codes like a detective. Here’s how you can do it like a pro:

Look for obvious QR code tampering

If the QR code looks sketchy, don’t scan it.

Before scanning a code, it’s a good practice to inspect its physical condition first. If there are visible signs of tampering, not from the usual weathering and wear and tear, it’s highly recommended not to scan it.

If you’re paying using QR codes, request another QR code stand without the visible signs of tampering. If it isn’t available, opt for an alternative payment method like debit and credit cards or the good old cash.

Inspect the QR code URL

Most modern smartphones show a preview of the QR code link before actually redirecting users to the website. Always review the legitimacy of the link in the URL preview.

One of the most common signs of a legitimate QR code link from a trusted QR code generator is if it starts with ‘https://’ or has a padlock symbol at the start of the URL.

Even if the link was generated using a short URL generator, it should follow this URL structure as it’s the most basic indicator that the link is safe and secure.

Analyze the destination page

As scammers become more clever in breaching these security measures, checking the URL’s landing page thoroughly is important.

As URLs can’t be repeated, scammers often misspell words or add an extra letter in the middle of the URL to make it look authentic.

Carefully check the page for errors before doing anything else, regardless of how trustworthy or aesthetically pleasing the destination page is.

Evaluate the QR code source

Before scanning a QR code sent to you via email, analyze it first. No matter how good it looks, there should be obvious email scam signs.

For example, a brand’s email address often contains the brand name. If it’s a generic address, such as ‘gmail.com’ or ‘outlook.com,’ it’s most likely a scam.

Logos, headers, grammar, and other factors are also inconsistent. Have a thorough check before scanning a QR code sent in emails or texts.

Check the QR code branding

Not all generic QR codes and links are untrustworthy. But there’s a higher chance that QR codes without branding are fake.

QR code expert says that customized or branded QR codes can boost QR scans by 80%. QR code branding gives your code identity and credibility.

Ask yourself: Would you scan a generic-looking QR code or a branded QR code with the brand’s logo?

Customized QR codes look more scannable and credible to the naked eye.


3 most common QR code scams

In this QR code era, it’s critical to learn the usual QR scams so you won’t fall victim the next time you encounter them.

Here are the common QR scams you should look out for:

Fake QR codes on parking meter payments

Common QR code scams

QR codes have become one of the most common ways to pay for parking. However, as it’s in a public area, these contactless QR payment options are also very easy to tamper with.

Most people are rushing to exit the parking area. Instead of checking the authenticity of the QR code for payment, they simply want to make a transaction and head toward their destination. 

Scammers use this urgency to compromise your data.

In fact, there have been many reports of fraudulent codes on parking meters across the US and the UK.

To avoid falling prey to these scams, pay for your parking using other methods if you can. Or, if you don’t have cash at hand, never rush to settle your parking fees using contactless QR payments.

Always double-check for signs of a fake website scam, such as bad grammar, inconsistent design, and unsecured URL structure, among others

QR codes on unexpected delivery packages

Delivery package QR code scam

Have you received a package but don’t remember ordering anything? If so, don’t receive the parcel; chances are they’re sent as a phishing tactic.

The delivery driver may insist you receive the package because it has your full name and address. They may direct you to receive the package and to simply return it later on by following the instructions on the QR code.

This is a common form of quishing that you should avoid.

Once you scan this code, you may be prompted to enter your personal details, including your credit card information, security password, and one-time PIN.

As a rule of thumb, don’t receive a package that you’re not expecting. Report this incident immediately to the e-commerce platform or the courier website.

Fake QR coupons sent through emails and text messages

Fake QR code coupon

Who doesn’t want coupons to save money on their purchases? That’s exactly what scammers want to take advantage of.

Scammers mimic the whole interface, design, and fonts of the merchant to make them appear more believable to unsuspecting users. They make fake coupons through a QR code generator and send them through emails and text messages.

Along with these emails and texts are instructions on how to scan the QR coupon upon checkout. Once scanned, customers are led to a phishing website that steals their credit card information.

Moreover, instead of phishing for information, other forms of QR coupon scams simply want to infect your devices with malware. Once this happens, every piece of information in your device becomes compromised.

To prevent this, most reputable brands don’t send a QR code or links through emails or text messages. If they ever do, the offer isn’t too good to be true. 

For example, if a QR coupon claims to offer up to a 90% discount or a brand-new car, it’s unlikely to be true. Don’t scan them, no matter how tempting the offer.

How to protect yourself against QR scams

Avoid QR code scam

Investigate before scanning

Before scanning any QR code, thoroughly examine it—from its physical attributes, such as obvious tampering, to URL previews.

Whether it’s a QR code authentication or discount QR codes, you should be mindful of scanning them.

If you see any signs of a potential scam, it’s better to stay on the safe side and avoid scanning the QR code.

Use a secure QR code scanner

For dual security, you can use a third-party QR code scanner like the QR TIGER app. This free QR code reader is totally safe and secure to use for iOS and Android devices.

This app does not collect or share any user data, making it a secure and safe QR scanner option on app stores.

Don’t skip OS updates and security patches

One of your most effective security measures against QR scams is your device. It has plenty of security features that protect your data from getting hacked easily.

But as QR phishing scams evolve, phone brands and operating systems (OS) also update their safety measures and countermeasures through security patches and OS updates.

While each update’s highlight feature is the facelift it offers to the device’s design language, there are also security updates that protect your information from common online scams and data theft.

Do not share personal information

Say, you already scanned fake QR codes and are already on the landing page that looks authentic. If it asks for any personal information, don’t share it immediately.

Browse through the web page and do your due diligence to check for signs of a potential scam. 

Be extra wary if it asks for personal information other than the usual verification, such as your mother’s maiden name or the street where you grew up. These are usually security questions.

Use a reliable QR code generator

The best and only way to mitigate and prevent QR scams is to go deep into the roots. Use a scam-proof QR code platform to create secure QR codes.

Using a dynamic QR code platform, you can ensure your QR codes take scanners to the right destination page. You can even set a password or expiry to your QR for better security.

Educate yourself

If you know the common QR code scams and how to avoid them, you are less likely to be a target of QR code traps. 

That’s why staying updated on the latest scamming tactics and security measures you can take as precautions is important.

Remember that knowledge is power—and this applies especially to scams.

Trust your instincts

Even if every point tells you that a QR code is legitimate, but you can’t take your eyes off that weird tampering or too-good-to-be-true offer, don’t scan it.

Always trust your instincts. If it tells you that something is suspicious, there probably is.

Remember: It’s not bad to scan QR codes, but it’s definitely wrong to scan fake ones.

QR TIGER—the trusted QR code software your business needs today

QR codes are everywhere, and so are the lurking cybercriminals. So, the best way to steer clear of fake QR codes and their dirty games is by using a reliable and secure QR code software.

QR TIGER is among the most trusted QR code platforms online. It fully complies with the highest security standards and privacy regulations and uses the most advanced safety tools to guarantee a safe user experience. 

That’s why more than 850,000 global brands trust this QR code generator.

It’s time to join them and switch to QR TIGER to create secure QR codes. Start your scam-proof journey now.


Frequently asked questions

How to check if a QR code is safe?

You can tell when a QR code is safe and secure by checking the QR code link. Obvious indicators include branded or customized links and the https:// with the padlock symbol.

Can QR codes be dangerous?

QR codes are technically safe to use, but they can be easy targets for cyberattacks. Cybercriminals can use them for phishing and malware attacks.

When placed in the wrong hands, they can be dangerous. The rule of thumb is to use a QR code platform that prioritizes user safety and security.

Brands using QR codes

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