QR codes have exploded in popularity, but the new technology carries some new risks for consumers.
You can see QR codes everywhere these days, from restaurant tables to billboards to take-out coffee cups. The University of Central Florida football team even put them on their uniforms for the spring game, so fans could use their phones to scan players and get real-time stats.
At the 10th and Willow Bar and Grill in Hoboken, NJ, owner Mario Ennio says the code have allowed him to largely do away with paper menus.
“The flexibility is huge,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to change the menu on the fly. And they can take them home. So, it's on their countertop or their refrigerator, they can order food to go.”
Laura Flynn, one of his customers, likes the change. “It's a lot easier just to take out your phone and use them than a menu,” she says.
But the new technology brings some new risks for consumers. For years, consumer advocates have been warning people not to click on web links if they don’t completely trust them. Otherwise, they could unwittingly download malware. Because QR codes can be accessed using a smartphone’s camera, some consumers tell Kane in Your Corner they didn’t realize scanning an unknown code amounts to the same thing as clicking an unknown link.
“I never thought of it that way but it makes sense,” says John Lashley.
Lauren Rabinowitz says would only scan a QR code if she knew it was safe. “Like if there was a sign here, I wouldn’t do it, that I would not trust. That, I would think could be a scam or a virus.”
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The problem is: it can be harder than it looks to spot a fake code. Take parking meters. Many of us are now used to the convenience of paying for a meter by scanning a code, but police in three Texas cities say someone put bogus QR code stickers on meters there, trying to steal people’s money. Police declined to say how many people fell for the scam.
“If you are somewhere where you expect to see a QR code, you may put a level of trust into it that it doesn't deserve,” says Brad Haas, cyberthreat intelligence analyst at the cybersecurity firm, COFENSE.
Haas predicts the risk of malware being distributed by QR codes will only get worse because, “technology is always changing and the bad guys are always finding new ways to try to take advantage of people and QR codes are no different.”