How To Identify And Avoid QR Phishing Attacks 

Phishing scams are an inescapable part of modern life. We’ve all had it: an urgent email from one of your most trusted service providers hits your inbox, urging you to take immediate action or suffer the consequences. Many of us will have fallen for one of these scams, and most of us know someone who has.  

But by now, most savvy internet users are suspicious of these messages. We know we should be wary of emails marked “urgent,” check for grammar or spelling mistakes, check the sender’s address, and avoid clicking links.  

However, as awareness of phishing scams has improved, so has the quality of the scams themselves. Technologies like ChatGPT and other generative AI tools have largely eradicated the tell-tale spelling mistakes in scam emails. Cybercriminals are increasingly employing spear-phishing tactics to convince victims their messages are genuine, and many scammers are turning to new social engineering schemes to fool unsuspecting users.  

QR phishing, or “qishing,” is one such tactic. Most internet users today are wary of link-based phishing scams, but this is less true with QR codes. Many people will use QR codes daily to take advantage of promotional deals or offers but are unaware that cybercriminals can use them for malicious purposes.  

What is QR Phishing?   

“As the number of smartphone users soars to nearly 7 billion, QR codes offer an easy yet deceptive means to execute phishing attacks, known as ‘Qishing.”In a QR phishing attack, cybercriminals use malicious QR codes to dupe users into visiting fraudulent websites, disclosing sensitive information, or downloading malware onto their devices. QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes containing encoded information to allow quick access to websites, promotions, discounts, and other digital content. 

Cybercriminals launch qishing attacks by distributing QR codes through various channels, including email, SMS, social media, advertisements, or even physical flyers. Malicious QR codes typically resemble legitimate ones and attempt to entice potential victims with offers, discounts, or prizes.  

Once a user has scanned the malicious QR code, it redirects them to a fraudulent website or phishing page owned and controlled by the attackers. These websites often mimic legitimate ones, such as banking portals, online shopping sites, or login pages of popular services.

The website will typically prompt victims to enter sensitive information such as login credentials, account information, personal details, or even credit card numbers. Alternatively, they may attempt to download malware into the user’s device, exploit security vulnerabilities, or execute malicious scripts to steal information or take control of the device.  

Protecting Against QR Phishing 

To identify and avoid falling victim to qishing scams, stick to these best practices:  

  • Verify Sources – Check the source of a QR code before you scan it. QR codes received via unsolicited messages offering deals, discounts and prizes – especially if they seem too good to be true – often indicate a qishing scam. If you’re unsure, contact the sender directly to verify the legitimacy of the QR code.  
  • Inspect URLs – If a QR code links to a website, it will contain a URL. As with more traditional phishing scams, URL misspellings, strange characters, or suspicious domain names often indicate scams.  
  • Check for Red Flags – Qishing and phishing scams share common indicators. Poor grammar, lousy spelling, generic greetings, or urgent requests for personal information likely indicated a scam in both cases.  
  • Use a Secure QR Code Scanner App – Reputable QR code scanners can validate URLs, check a website’s reputation, and identify suspicious URLs. Some apps can even display a preview of the website before users enter it, allowing them to assess the legitimacy of the destination. 
  • Avoid High-Risk Locations – Exercise caution when encountering QR codes in high-risk locations, such as public places, advertisements, or promotional materials. Cybercriminals may tamper with legitimate QR codes or replace them with malicious ones to trick unsuspecting users into scanning them and visiting phishing websites. 
  • Trust Your Instincts – If something seems suspicious or too good to be true, go with your gut. Avoid scanning QR codes that prompt you to provide sensitive information, download unknown files, or take actions that seem suspicious or out of the ordinary. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and refrain from scanning the QR code. 
  • Stay Informed – Stay informed about the latest phishing threats and tactics used by cybercriminals to trick unsuspecting users into disclosing sensitive information or downloading malware. Keep updated with security advisories, phishing alerts, and cybersecurity news to stay ahead of emerging threats and protect yourself from QR phishing attacks.  

QR phishing is a growing problem, claiming victims across the globe. In January 2023, a 60-year-old woman lost $20,000 when she scanned a QR code and filled out a survey to win a cup of free milk tea; late last year, scammers swindled a 71-year-old woman from England out of £13,000 when she scanned a QR code in a train station car park; in 2023, Indian authorities received around 15,000 complaints related to quishing. To avoid becoming a statistic – or worse, headline news story – remember to stay vigilant. 

Josh Content Writer At Bora

Josh is a Content writer at Bora. He graduated with a degree in Journalism in 2021 and has a background in cybersecurity PR. He’s written on a wide range of topics, from AI to Zero Trust, and is particularly interested in the impacts of cybersecurity on the wider economy. 

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