Safety and Protection

How to Safely Use QR Codes

Erin Palmer

June 08, 2021

Phone scanning QR code

QR codes are square, black and white images that can be scanned, much like barcodes, with a smartphone or similar device. The name means “quick response” codes, because when they are scanned, a QR code lets the user instantly access information.

QR codes have become popular because they’re an easy way for users to get information. You might see them in advertisements, on restaurant menus, or on product packaging.

Before using QR codes, it’s important to learn about how to stay safe.

Are QR Codes Safe?

A QR code sends a user to a specific destination when using them. So legitimate uses of QR codes from legitimate businesses should be safe to use. However, scammers can still use QR codes in malicious ways.

Think of it like this: emails are safe when used correctly. But scammers can make phishing emails that trick people into clicking dangerous links that steal personal information. QR codes are similar.

Scammers can create their own QR codes to use in malicious ways. And since many QR codes don’t let you preview a URL before opening it, you may not know whether or not is leading you to a safe location.

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Woman thinking of scanning QR code

How to Safely Use QR Codes

The simplest way to stay safe when using QR codes is to make sure that you take a moment to assess the situation before you scan the code. This is especially important if you are scanning a QR code from a physical item, like a poster or other printed material.

One of the most common QR codes scams is when scammers replace a legitimate QR code with a malicious one. Before scanning a QR code, make sure that it hasn’t been pasted over with a different QR code. If you see that a QR code has stuck on top of the printed item, it could be the work of a scammer and you should not scan that code.

Here are some quick tips for using QR codes:

  • If you see that a QR code was pasted on top of the printed item, always assess the QR code and make sure that it’s from a trusted source
  • Do not scan QR codes that are from unknown sources
  • Look closely at QR codes on printed material to make sure they haven’t been tampered with
  • Remember that you don’t know where a QR code will take you, so always use caution

If you come across a QR code in an email, make sure the email is from a sender you know and trust before scanning the code. If you come across a QR code on a website, make sure you are on a safe site before scanning the code.

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