Is That QR Code Safe to Scan?

First Published: March 18, 2024

QR (Quick Response) codes are a convenient way to quickly access websites, apps, or other online content by simply scanning the code with your smartphone’s camera. However, scanning a malicious QR code can potentially lead to security risks, such as being redirected to a phishing website or inadvertently downloading malware onto your device.

To avoid these threats, verifying the legitimacy of a QR code before scanning it is crucial. Here are some simple tips to help you stay safe:

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Before scanning a QR code, take a moment to consider the source.

If the code is displayed on a reputable website, product packaging, or printed material from a trusted organization, it’s likely safe to scan. However, be cautious of QR codes found in public places, such as on flyers or stickers, Iโ€™d suggest avoiding scanning these.

A lot of QR code scams involve placing a sticker with a malicious code over the printed code on a package. While the manufacturer might have had a legitimate reason to do this, I would never scan a QR code that wasnโ€™t printed directly to the original package or literature.

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The camera on your phone makes it quick and simple to scan QR codes and be directed to the linked destination.

A much safer approach is to use a dedicated scanner app, which you can get from your app store.

I like the Cognex scanner app, which can perform a lot of barcode tasks, in addition to scan QR codes.

Other apps, such as the one from Trend Micro, warn if a scan is trying to send you to an unsafe site.

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Before scanning a QR code, most QR code reader apps will preview the URL or content linked to the code. Carefully inspect this preview to ensure it contains no suspicious or unfamiliar domains or links.

Note that many QR codes include a shortened link to keep the size of the printed code as small as possible. This means that the preview will only sometimes show the actual destination.

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If a QR code seems out of place or promises something too good to be true (e.g., “Scan to win a free iPhone!”), it’s likely a scam. Trust your instincts and err on the side of caution when encountering suspicious QR codes.

In general, if you are uncertain, just donโ€™t scan that code!

Do you have any other tips?

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