Even though there are more and more retailers that accept cryptocurrency, there are still those that are reluctant to do so. Bitcoin’s – and other crypto’s – security gets in its own way as the complex structure of wallet addresses makes them impractical during in-person transactions.
QR codes solve that problem by allowing mobile phone users to access wallets through their devices. Unfortunately, QR Codes also give scammers a way in. It doesn’t mean “never trust a QR code.” It just means “keep your wits about you when using QR codes.”
What Are QR Codes?
You’ve definitely seen Quick Response codes before, even if you didn’t know what they were or what to call them. They’re a square matrix of black and white squares that can be used to store data, similar to the older barcodes.
QR codes are used to track items and store information. However, with the advent of QR scanners on mobile phones, they’re also used as real-world hyperlinks. They can be printed on paper and made into stickers to be placed just about anywhere.
One problem is that humans can’t read QR codes. This makes it impossible to determine whether or not the code you’re using is legitimate.
How Do Cryptocurrency Scammers Use Them?
The blessing and curse of QR codes is that they’re easy to generate online. This makes it easier for cryptocurrency-friendly retailers to produce them but it also makes it easier for scammers.
Some QR code scams happen at the sticker. This happens when scammers create QR codes linking to their own wallets and place them over legitimate QR codes. It can also happen when scammers associate their own QR codes with services that don’t accept cryptocurrency payment.
QR code scams can also happen at the interface. This happens when scammers create websites for generating QR codes. Retailers think that they are creating a QR code for themselves but it really deposits money into the wallets of thieves.
How Can You Protect Your Cryptocurrency?
Technology news website Micky has some recommendations to keep you safe when making cryptocurrency purchases with QR codes. They recommend buyers checking to make sure that a dangerous QR code has not been placed over the original. They also recommend that retailers send themselves a small transaction using a new QR code. This can identify fraudulent QR codes before exposing customers to the scam.
Further, a crypto wallet ZenGo recommends using a trusted QR code generator rather trusting Google Search results. The company also recommends manually checking that the address linked by the QR code is actually your address. Finally, they recommend using a threat intelligence service browser add-on.
Security company Malwarebytes further recommends using common sense and not using QR codes in situations that you are uncomfortable with.
What to Do If You Encounter a QR Code Scam
If you encounter a cryptocurrency scam, let everyone know. Let law enforcement know. Let social media know. If you’re a customer, let the retailer know. Further, let your payment service know. They can work with you to try to protect your account and to prevent other people from falling for the scam.
Much of what we know about QR code scams comes from big-name security watchdogs. However, at least one of the scams discussed in this article was first pointed out on Reddit.
Jon Jaehnig is an American freelance writer specializing in Technology and Health. Jon has degrees in Scientific and Technical Communication and Journalism from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with his wife and cat. For more from Jon, you can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.