From business cards to Sunday ads, even church bulletins and employment opportunities, QR codes are popping up everywhere, and have been for quite some time.

Chances are that you yourself have scanned something featuring a QR code in the last month, maybe not even realizing that the technology behind QR codes has been around since 1994. First called "Quick Response" codes, they were introduced by a Japanese company, Denso Wave Inc., for the sole purpose of tracking vehicle parts.

Getty Images
Getty Images

You also may not have realized that scam artists are making themselves some money (while potentially swiping valuable personal information) when an unsuspecting victim scans a QR code that sends them to a fake website or otherwise fraudulent content.

As WROK's own Kim Komando points out, the codes are easily distributed and reprinted and can be found almost anywhere. From showing up in magazines to being uploaded to social media, all you need to do is point your camera at the code to get the data. And that's where the problems begin for some unlucky scanners.

Once a code is scanned, a popup will appear with confirmation that you want to follow the link. It might display the full domain and URL, but hackers can easily spoof this. Many of the nefarious codes will take you to fake or phishing sites and require your personal details to continue.

As the codes are easy to program online, the BBB warns that cybercriminals can configure them to automatically launch payment applications or cause you to follow malicious social media accounts.

There's no doubt that QR codes are absolutely everywhere around the Rockford area. Two places that I frequently visit have big posters up advertising the fact that they're hiring. Both of these places use an easily scannable giant QR code. I've gotten plenty of emails that feature QR codes, too.

Customer using scanning QR code by smartphone for her coffee in a cafe
Getty Images

Both the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Kim Komando warn that scammers have even gone so far as to place their own QR code sticker over the legitimate QR code sticker that was in place.

Here's what the BBB says to do to avoid being scammed by phony QR codes:

  • If someone you know sends you a QR code, confirm before scanning it
  • Don’t open links from strangers
  • Verify the source
  • Watch out for advertising materials that have been tampered with
  • Install a QR scanner with added security

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