The QR Trap: Safeguarding Against Quishing (QR code phishing)

Update:  March 15, 2024
The QR Trap: Safeguarding Against Quishing (QR code phishing)

Is that QR code really just your ticket to getting a coupon or perhaps a restaurant menu? Think again. These nifty squares can sometimes morph into malicious monsters thanks to a sneaky trick called Quishing (QR code phishing).

It is a type of phishing cyber attack but with a QR code twist, designed to deceive people into visiting harmful websites or downloading malware. 

QR codes can be found everywhere these days, promising instant access to data such as personal, contact information, or bank details.

But have you ever thought that these seemingly harmless black-and-white squares could be a trap? Let us find out the cunning cyber threat behind these codes and learn how you can keep your data safe.

What is Quishing (QR code phishing)?

Phishing is an age-old existing cybersecurity attack that has evolved in various guises over the years. They first manifested through email messages targeting specific organizations. This time around, the attackers use QR codes, a.k. a Quishing. 

Barcodes have been the global benchmark for products for many years. However, since QR technology is continuing to advance, it is set that 2D QR codes will replace barcodes in the future, offering a more comprehensive tool to retailers. 

This made QR codes’ flexibility and versatility susceptible to malicious exploits like QR code phishing. 

Quishing is a type of phishing using malicious QR codes to trick people into giving away sensitive and confidential information.

Instead of text-based links, quishers design fake QR codes that look authentic to mislead scanners. 

They often mimic codes used for payments, logins, or information access and are placed in emails, text messages, social media posts, and physical marketing collaterals.

Benjamin Claeys, a QR code expert and CEO of QR TIGER QR Code Generator, shares his thoughts on quishing:

"Quishing is a type of QR code scam linked to a page by a URL. This page can as well be a malicious URL that wants you to give information, link bank details, or other data that scammers want to get access from you or install something on your smartphone.

When users scan the QR code, their device automatically reads the encoded information, often a website link. Unfortunately, the link leads to a nasty website. 

Here’s how it works:

The Bait: Scam artists create spoofed QR codes to imitate legitimate ones and placed on every material available, from posters to receipts.

The Scan: These QR codes usually contain messages that prompt people to scan. It might include catchphrases like "Scan for an 80% discount" to lure people into checking the code. 

The Trap: When scanning the QR code, your smart devices will be led to a fake website designed to mimic a real one, like your bank's login page. This deceives users into believing they are interacting with a legitimate platform. 

The Steal: Once you input your details on the fraudulent site, the scammer steals it. Little do you know that your smart devices are swimming with malware, your login details are up for grabs, and your identity is on the verge of disaster. 

Sound scary? It should. But fear not; we’re here for you. Read more below, grasp the types of QR code phishing, and learn how to protect yourself from it. 

How to detect a Quishing attack


Quishing aims to steal sensitive information. That is why knowing how to detect red flags and possible schemes is essential.

Here are ways to detect a quishing attack:

Unknown source 

QR codes can be manipulated and pinned down on websites. They can also be placed on legitimate-looking advertisements or social media posts. 

Many unfamiliar brands may offer unrealistic gifts or discount deals, prompting you to scan a QR code without thinking twice. Does it urge you to act quickly? This may be the work of quishers. 

"It's not always easy to know if a QR code has been tampered with or malicious, " Claeys says. "When this happens, ask yourself if this information is related to what you scan."

"For example, if you scan a QR code for an event, it should not ask for your bank details, or if you scan a QR code for marketing, it should neither ask for financial data."

You should build a healthy and skeptical relationship with advertisements around you. Don’t scan every QR code you encounter, especially in public places, as they could be tampered with. 

Unfamiliar and suspicious URLs

You should be wary of domains you do not recognize or seem irrelevant to the context. 

Claeys adds, "You need to use a little common instinct when you open a page."

Question yourself, “Does this match the expected organization or company?” “Does the website appear legitimate and well-maintained?”

Some phones now show the URL before leading you to the content behind the QR code. Benefit from this by ensuring the URL of the QR code you scan starts with “https://” with a padlock icon for a secure and authentic gateway. 

Also, avoid shortened URLs that hide the actual destination, as they could house malware. 

Distorted QR code design

The slight blurriness of the QR code isn’t definitive of a scam. You should consider other factors alongside QR code design distortion, too. 

Uneven shapes, missing data blocks, and warped modules could appear and may indicate the potential hiding of malicious content. Use this as a warning sign. If modules are undoubtedly missing or added, it should be avoided. 

Other things to be mindful of are uneven colors or irregular blotches in the QR code. This hampers QR code readability, leading to malicious redirects. 

Content mismatch

Detecting misleading and out-of-context QR codes requires keen observation and perception. 

Does the displayed QR code or guaranteed action sound sensible, considering the location? For example, a QR code promising a free travel ticket on a bathroom stall is out of the ordinary.

Codes in unexpected locations, such as on random lampposts or inside ATM stalls, are red flags, too. You should also look at the consistency of the context within the surroundings. 

Can you see a uniformity of QR codes nearby? Does its setting fit appropriately with its message? Inconsistency is an indication of foul play.  

Misspelled words or switched letters

Misspellings or switched letters are often intentional schemes in internet scams. Quishers use them to disguise malicious URLs, hoping you won’t notice the discrepancy. 

These attackers embed subtle mistakes in the text associated with the QR code or within the data, often impersonating legitimate URLs or brand names. This can be typos, uneven spacing, or even extra/missing characters. 

Request for sensitive information

Legitimate and recognized QR codes do not require sensitive information like financial details or passwords. What can happen is that hackers use QR codes to direct you to phishing websites or apps that ask for this information.

Scanning QR codes could lead to a webpage displaying a presumably official survey form (e.g., your bank) requesting personal data or credit card details. 

These forms might then claim to be necessary for account verification or claim rewards, deceiving you into revealing your information. 

How can Quishing (QR code phishing) attacks be prevented?

Use a trusted QR code scanner 

Secured QR code scanner

Choose a trusted and reliable QR code scanner that keeps all your sensitive assets safe and guarded. 

QR TIGER’s QR code scanner is one of today’s most efficient and secure readers.

It is ISO 27001 certified, meaning it safeguards your organization from cyber-attacks and other security threats. 

This accreditation warrants that clients’ information is classified as highly private or sensitive, protecting brand identity and data resources. 

While other QR code scanners have limited scan activity per day, this user-friendly QR code scanner is without restrictions. 

Not only that, this dual-function software is also a QR code generator. It is loaded with advanced QR code solutions that you can create for free, including the URL, Wi-Fi, vCard, Text, and more. 

Keep your device or software updated

Updating your device is a valuable step in preventing QR code phishing. Updates assure that flaws in your device’s operating system will be fixed, making it harder for scammers to retrieve your information. 

Some updates may also enhance built-in security features to identify suspicious URLs or malware possibly encoded in QR codes.  

Check beyond physical tampering

Be cautious of QR codes displayed in public places, especially if they are being overlaid on the original material. Check for smudges, tears, and other inconsistencies that point to tampering. 

Moreover, verify the source, preview the URL, and inspect the website before entering the domain where the QR code scan leads you. 

The most important aspect you should practice is awareness and skepticism. See to it that you double-check everything before entering any sensitive information. 

Preview before diving

When scanning a QR code, most scanner apps let you see the website link before leading to the content. Use this power to your advantage. 

Check the URL for suspicious characters, typographical errors, or strange domain names. If it screams red flags, close the app at once. 

Access a website using a web browser

Accessing an intended website using a web browser offers another layer of protection against QR code phishing attacks.

Manual URL verification allows you to inspect the address exhaustively for suspicious characters, typos, or unnecessary domains. 

Modern browsers also have QR code security features like anti-phishing filters and threat detection for added data safeguarding. 

Be a QR code skeptic

Don’t scan every QR code you see like a digital moth drawn to a flame. Question its source and scrutinize the URL or content. 

Is it on a shady flyer or a trusted business website? If it feels phishy, it probably is. Remember, free Wi-Fi can come with a price tag. 

Scan only known sources

Scan codes only from trusted sources like official websites, reputable brands, or verified social media accounts. Unknown entities are a no-go zone.

Here’s a tip for you: look for official branded QR codes and logos and look at the context of the signage. 

Cross-reference the details and do a separate search if the QR code tries to offer deals or discounts. 

Educate yourself

Educate yourself about phishing using QR codes and prevent cyber threats by understanding how it works, learning the red flags, and the risks it entails. 

Learning requires minimal effort, and you may reap the benefits from it. A few minutes spent comprehending the risks and techniques can spare you from significant trouble and potential danger.  

Furthermore, it equips you to make educated choices and protect yourself proactively.

Spread the word

Share Quishing (QR code phishing) with family and friends. The more people who know the dangers of this cyber threat, the fewer victims there will be. 

Sharing your knowledge with others also empowers and creates a fortified online environment. 

Use QR codes with security features

Use QR code scanner apps with built-in security features. This allows immediate detection of suspicious URLs and checking for known malware or phishing sites. 

Also, avail yourself of dynamic QR codes. They offer valuable protection since these codes can be changed frequently, mitigating the risk of QR codes being intercepted and tampered with. 

Trust your instincts

While systematic measures like URL previews and reliable QR code scanners offer invaluable protection, your intuition can be the first defense line. A lingering feeling of mistrust is a solid indication to step back. 

Trusting your gut allows you to pause, question the QR codes’ legitimacy, and steer clear of the dangerous actions of scanning them. 

QR code phishing attacks: How businesses can avoid and protect themselves from it

Undeniably, businesses that operate QR codes have an underlying risk of quishing. 

Here are critical approaches to protect yourself from QR code scams. 

Use a secure QR code generator

A secure QR code maker commonly employs cryptographic techniques, making it harder for cybercrime experts to inject malicious content into QR codes. 

With the QR TIGER QR code generator, all your information, like email, passwords, and banking details, is encrypted using SSL encryption, which protects your QR code against unauthorized access. 

Its robust security measures are also well established. They proudly hold ISO 27001 certification and GDPR compliance, demonstrating a steadfast dedication to the highest information security and privacy standards. 

Claeys also said that besides obtaining internet security software like anti-malware for your devices, it is best to "incorporate the two main protective measures for a QR code -- the two-factor authentication and password protection."

"Keep in check a software that integrates the highest level of security and privacy," he notes.

Using QR TIGER’s reliable QR code builder, you can trust that your personal or sensitive data is secure from potential threats.

Activate QR code authentication

Password protected QR codes

QR code phishing aims to steal credentials, financial details, or personal information. One way to shield yourself from it is through a two-factor authentication (2FA). This security system requires two separate, distinct forms of identification to access something. 

When this is activated in QR codes, scammers would still need the time-based one-time password (TOTP) generated by the 2FA to gain entry. 

This effective strategy enhances the security framework and lessens susceptibility to interception. 

Another way malicious actors use QR codes is to direct scanners to phishing websites and other venues.

If you want to place your QR codes in a public place to widen your business reach, you can use a password protected QR code to prevent unauthorized scans. 

This solution lets you regulate and restrict access to confidential content like Wi-Fi passwords or exclusive content, adding security and control to your digital materials. 

Establish trust through branding

Branding consistency breeds familiarity. By having a consistent branding element across all your marketing collateral, you create a pattern that allows users to differentiate your business from potential forgeries.

When users identify your brand, they are more inclined to be vigilant about QR codes claiming to be from you. This simplifies pinpointing QR codes and advertising replicas and sidesteps deceptive practices. 

Regularly monitor QR Code performance

Regularly monitoring the usage of your QR codes allows you to quickly detect unusual activity, such as spikes in scans, suspicious user scanning locations, and unexpected redirects. 

Doing this can swiftly incapacitate compromised QR codes, preventing further detrimental effects on your business. 

Use a custom domain or QR code URL

QR code white label

A custom domain is highly recommended for businesses managing sensitive data or transactions through QR codes.

QR TIGER’s QR code white label feature enables you to do this. By using an identifiable domain or QR code URL, scanners can easily verify the legitimacy of the website destination before entering the content. 

This lowers the chance of them falling prey to fraud attempts with disguised URLs and helps reinforce your brand image.

Provide alternative contact channels

Having alternative contact channels eases time-sensitive manipulation often exploited by these scamming attempts. 

Users will have contact options to verify legitimacy directly with the business. This encourages skepticism towards unfamiliar QR codes and speedily reports concerns regarding potential threats.  

Other types of phishing attacks you should know

The convenience that QR codes offer is undeniable, and that is why it is a new medium that scammers are trying to tap into. 

 Let us uncover the dark side behind these codes and not turn into Quishing prey. 

Spear phishing

Spear phishing is a cunning and targeted cyber intrusion that seeks to steal sensitive data or access computer systems by impersonating a trusted individual or organization. 

This type of malpractice caters to specific individuals or groups, hence the name spear – precise and focused. 

Unlike traditional phishing attacks, this type of malware is crafted to appear as if they are from a legitimate source that the people know and trust, such as the victim’s friend, family, manager, or bank. 

Spear phishing is particularly dangerous because it is personalized to the victim itself, which can be very convincing. Other phishing code examples include attacks on mediums like email, phone, SMS, and social media. 


On the other hand, whaling is a niche attack targeting C-level executives. They guise themselves as legitimate email inciting victims to perform a secondary action such as a bank transfer. 

It is exceptionally dangerous since it holds customized information about the targeted individual or company. 

These cunning cybercrooks don’t waste their bait on minor catches. They meticulously research their targets, studying social media profiles, news articles, and internal business documents to craft highly personalized emails. 

Imagine your CEO’s email arriving in your inbox, stressing about a rush project and requesting a quick fund transfer. Generally, panic tends to kick in, stirring you up to bypass protocols. 

You have just handed over the keys to your company’s vault without knowing it. 


This type of cyber breach uses text messages (SMS) to trick users into giving away personal data or clicking on harmful links. It is essentially phishing done through text messages. 

It is a social engineering attack that exploits trust instead of technical manipulation. 

Smishers now send text messages that appear to be from a legitimate source like your bank, a delivery company, a friend, or even your family. They intend to seek financial or personal information like your ATM account. 

Like its email cousin, smishing tries to reel you in with urgency or fear, such as saying there is a problem with your account, a package delivery trouble, or even an alluring deal. 


QR code phishing, like vishing, now takes the form of phone calls tricking you into spilling sensitive details. 

Vishers use deceitful phone numbers and voice-altering software to execute their fraudulent scheme. The voice message then ploys users to connect to a human agent who carries out the scamming process. It might also ask users to open a malicious website. 

They might also pretend to be people from the police, financial institutions, the government, or even the company you work for. 

Outplay quishers with QR TIGER—the most secure QR code generator online

QR codes now saturate the technological landscape, offering swift access to information, discounts, menus, and more. 

Outwit the deceivers and protect your QR code from manipulation. 

Before hastily scanning QR codes and handing out your data, watch for scams hidden in those pixelated squares, and don't forget the insights from the expert. 

Don’t get quished; get savvy with this helpful information, and be mindful of schemers around. 

Avoid QR code phishing with QR TIGER, the most secure QR code generator online. Start your scam-proof QR code venture with us.


What is an example of quishing?

Examples of QR code phishing include fake parking tickets, bogus travel vouchers, and fake discounts and deals. 

All these seemingly official QR codes trick you into malware-laden sites, stealing all your data, including your bank details.

What are the types of phishing?

Phishing involves QR code phishing, spear phishing, whaling, smishing, and vishing. 

What happens if you click a phishing link?

Clicking on a phishing link could take you to a fake website, download malware, or steal your personal information. Each of these exploit the vulnerabilities in your device.

Brands using QR codes

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