CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Millions of smartphone users use quick response or QR codes to quickly connect to a website, a business or to pay for a service. QR codes have grown in popularity because of how convenient they are to use and provide contactless service.
Unfortunately, scammers are also using them.
Police are warning about a potential QR code scam that tries to steal credit card information by posing as parking payment websites.
“It's pretty scary when you look at something that looks official,” Josh Glassberg, who lives in Charlotte's South End neighborhood, said.
“I think it is horrible,” Alisha Harper said. "I hate people being scammed but that is the way of the world these days."
In a message posted to social media this week, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department forewarned about the scam, which the department said has "been reported in jurisdictions outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area." In these instances, fake QR codes were placed over legitimate QR codes.
The codes misdirected consumers away from safe payment websites.
"These stickers can just easily be ordered off the internet and direct you to a site controlled by the suspects," Detective Alec Campbell of the Financial Crimes Unit said. "So then when you put your credit card information in, believing you are paying for a service, you are actually just giving the suspects your credit card information."
The concern is that fake websites could steal credit card information and misdirect funds away from the intended business. This could also create a situation where a car is ticketed or towed because of unpaid parking.
"Read the instructions that are given, usually in the parking kiosk screen or actually something fixed or printed on the kiosk because there may not even be a QR code option," Campbell said.
- Do not scan a code if it looks suspicious, tampered, or covered up
- Do not download a QR code scanner app. Use the built-in scanner in your phone's camera app
- Do not open links from strangers or unverified sources that include a QR code
- Check the URL and domain name of the site that the QR code takes you to, and make sure it is authentic and secure
Secure websites typically have a lock icon, or an "s" in the "https" portion of the web address, to indicate the website is encrypted and secure.
QR codes can be scanned using the camera app on a cell phone. The codes direct users to a website for payment or other information. Since QR codes can easily be made online, anyone can print out a self-made QR code.
Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont and Western NC President and CEO Tom Bartholomy came across a QR code he believes was a fake on South Boulevard in South End.
"It's kind of crazy -- in fact, this happened to me when looking for a parking spot in South End," Bartholomy said. "I was just meeting some friends and was lucky enough to find a spot on the street and pull up to the meter."
He said he was quickly suspicious of the QR code.
"The adhesive strip was kind of just a little bit off and look like it wasn't completely on," he said.
Bartholomy then gave it a little tug.
"Sure enough, the real QR code sticker was right underneath it," Bartholomy said, adding there was a phone number on the original sticker and he called and reported the fraud.
He reminded people to take a closer look at the website URL you are directed to before putting in any of your private information.
"If it says www, or https, that s better be there -- that's a huge tell because if that s isn't there, it's not secure," Bartholomy said. "So any credit card information or anything else that you put in there is not secure. If that S isn't there, or a little padlock doesn't appear don't put your credit card information in there."
If you’re not careful it is a scam that could cost you.
“There are so many scams today and it is so frustrating and as folks get older they are not as great with technology,” Andrea Glassberg said. “They are the ones who are the most vulnerable.
WCNC Charlotte's Where's The Money series is all about leveling the playing in the Carolinas by helping others and breaking down barriers. WCNC Charlotte doesn't want our viewers to be taken advantage of, so we’re here to help. Watch previous stories where we ask the question “Where’s the Money” in the YouTube playlist below and subscribe to get updated when new videos are uploaded.