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QR codes make it easy for scammers to get your personal information and money

With QR codes gaining popularity, experts warn to look closely before using your phone to get instant access

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Since the pandemic, QR codes have gained popularity by making it convenient for people to connect with information. Touchless menus gave instant access when people went out to eat. Now, quick response codes are used for other information. 

Crypto company, Coinbase, spent roughly $14 million on a Super Bowl ad. Unfortunately, the FBI warned that scammers are also using that technology.

MORE NEWS: 4 steps to spot an impostor website so you don’t get scammed

"Apparently that was a big enough attention-getter and big enough draw for Coinbase that it got other entities, scammers, involved in this saying, 'Wow, if there's that many people that are willing to click on QR codes, in a situation like that, we've got to ramp these out," Tom Bortholomy, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont and Western North Carolina, said.

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A parking meter scam using QR codes happened in Austin, Texas in early January. Criminals made their own QR code stickers and put them on parking meters. When drivers used their phones to pay, victims then landed on a dummy website and entered their personal information, including their credit card number.

MORE NEWS: Parking meter scam in San Antonio; SAPD warns

"Nobody can tell one QR code from another just by looking at it," Bortholomy said. "That's one of the beauties of a QR code. But, you can always tell where it takes you. And so, that's where it's critical, is to look at that URL, look at that web address. And does it match up with where you think you should be?"

Earlier this year, Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office fortunately discovered and took down fake flyers at the county courthouse. The flyers had a QR code asking for payment to the county clerk.

RELATED: Here's how you can tell the difference between a real City of Atlanta parking ticket and a fake one

If you believe you have been a victim of a QR code scam... contact the North Carolina Attorney General's office at 877-5-NO-SCAM or you can file your complaint online.

Tips to avoid becoming a victim of a scam 

  • Emotional appeal: Any pitch that ratchets up your emotion will inhibit your rational judgment.
  • Sense of urgency: You MUST act now, or else. 
  • Request for unorthodox payment: Gift cards, prepaid credit cards, wire transfers, etc. 

  • Explanations that don't ring true: If your new “landlord” can’t show you the inside of the house, that could be because they don’t own it. 

  • You won, now pay up: It’s not a prize if you have to pay for it. Taxes, fees, shipping, whatever. 

  • Too good to be true: That’s because it’s not true. Sorry, your long-lost relative didn’t die, leaving you millions. That car you bought online for a third of its Kelly Blue Book value doesn’t really exist. The son of a billionaire diamond broker didn’t “swipe right” on you and fall instantly in love. That work-at-home job paying you hundreds of dollars an hour for stuffing envelopes isn’t real. 

Contact Jane Monreal at jmonreal@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

WCNC Charlotte is committed to reporting on the issues facing the communities we serve. We tell the stories of people working to solve persistent social problems. We examine how problems can be solved or addressed to improve the quality of life and make a positive difference. WCNC Charlotte is seeking solutions for you. Send your tips or questions to newstips@wcnc.com.


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