How To » How to check if a QR code is safe: in easy steps

How to check if a QR code is safe: in easy steps

Learn how to spot a fake QR code so you can avoid getting ripped off.

by Charles Anders
6 minutes read
How to check if a QR code is safe

Do you want to know how to check if a QR code is safe. QR codes are becoming an important part of our digital lives very quickly. As QR codes become more common, software testers need to know how important it is to test them. Testing QR codes takes special skills and knowledge that can be hard for people who haven’t done it before to learn. QR codes are used by many different places and people today, including airports, restaurants, magazines, websites, marketers, warehouses, and factories.

The current pandemic has given a big boost to digital payment methods that use QR codes to make sure payments can be made without touching anything. But recent news stories show that fake QR codes are being used in a lot more scams and frauds. In this guide, we’ll show you how to check if a QR code is safe so you don’t get ripped off. You should also learn how to report fraud when shopping online.

What is a QR code?

A QR code (short for Quick Response code) is an array of black and white squares or pixels set in a grid that stores data for a machine to read. A smartphone or camera can quickly process the information contained in a QR code’s specific arrangement of pixels, making it a convenient way to store and access data. If you’ve used a QR code to access a Wi-Fi network or pull up a menu on your phone, these square codes may seem like modern wizardry, but they were actually invented all the way back in 1994 by the Japanese auto manufacturing company Denso Wave.

Initially, QR codes were used to enable high-speed scanning and tracking of components during the assembly process. Although the QR code meaning has evolved as compatible technology has matured to provide new ways to engage customers, most QR codes (also called qcodes) are designed simply to transmit URLs. As such, using a QR code is like typing a web address into your browser, only faster and more convenient.

How do QR codes work?

To make a QR code work, a series of black-and-white pixels are put together in a unique pattern that encodes a string of data. When a qcode is scanned, the pattern can be turned into information that people can read. If you know how to scan a barcode with a laser-reader, you already know how to scan a QR code.

The only real difference is the type of device used to read the code. But QR codes can hold a lot more information than barcodes because they can be written both vertically and horizontally. All QR codes have the same structure, which makes the information in them easy to read. Let’s take it apart:

  1. Quiet Zone: The empty white border around the outside of a QR code.
  2. Hinder pattern: The three black squares in the bottom-left, top-left, and top-right corners.
  3. Alignment pattern: A small square near the bottom-right corner, which ensures the QR code can be read, even if it’s skewed or at an angle.
  4. Timing pattern: An L-shaped line that helps to identify individual squares within the whole code, making it possible for a damaged QR code to be read.
  5. Version information: Identifies which version of the QR code is being read.

How to check if a QR code is safe

How to check if a QR code is safe
  1. Check the URL preview: Some QR code scanners let you see the URL before you scan it. Before you go any further, look at where it’s taking you and decide if it’s the URL you were looking for.
  2. Watch out for the source: You should think about where the QR code came from. Do you believe in the company? If the source is a website or brand that you don’t know, take a step back and look into it more.
  3. Believe in your gut: If you don’t think something is right, don’t scan the code. Instead, use your common sense and good judgment. Your gut feelings might be right, and if they are, you won’t sell your important information to someone who wants to do you harm.
  4. Check for bait that is overused: Some of the fake QR codes have too good to be true offers on them. You might have gotten an email or seen a poster that offered a luxury item for a very low price and had a QR code for you to scan. Stay away from deals like this.
  5. QR code context: Where were you when you saw the QR code? If you find a QR code in strange places, like funny emails, flyers on the street, random websites, etc., it’s likely to be fake. Also, look at how the codes are made. This can tell you a lot.

Common QR Code Scams and Frauds

Scam/Fraud TypeDescriptionHow It WorksPrevention Tips
Phishing ScamsFake QR codes lead to phishing websites or apps.Users are tricked into providing sensitive information.Double-check the source of the QR code before scanning.
Malware DistributionQR codes can link to malicious apps or files.Malware is installed on the user’s device unknowingly.Use a reputable QR code scanner and avoid unknown sources.
Fake Payment CodesFraudsters replace legitimate payment QR codes with fake ones.Money is sent to the scammer instead of the intended recipient.Verify payment details with the recipient before scanning.
Wi-Fi Network SpoofingQR codes for free Wi-Fi can lead to fake networks.Hackers intercept data or steal login credentials.Connect only to trusted networks and avoid unknown QRs.
Prize ScamsQR codes claim prizes but are used to steal personal info.Scammers request personal details or payment for “prizes.”Verify the legitimacy of prize offers before scanning.


QR codes may look simple, but they can store a lot of information. But no matter how much information they hold, when the QR code is scanned, the user should be able to get the information right away. A QR code is a type of barcode that is easy for a digital device to read and stores information as a grid of square pixels. QR codes are often used to track information about products in a supply chain, and because many smartphones have QR readers built in, they are also often used in marketing and advertising campaigns.

Questions and Answers

Is GPAY QR code safe?

Google Pay uses encrypted QR codes to keep user information private. If you want to pay a merchant who has a QR code that is encrypted, you will need to ask them for their UPI ID or phone number so you can make the payment by hand.

Can you scan a fake QR code?

Malware can take control of your device, steal your information, and even watch what you do. Users can be tricked into installing malware on their own devices by scanning an unknown QR code. This can cause serious security and privacy problems.

Is scanning QR codes risky?

Even though QR codes are safe most of the time, scammers can use them because they all look the same. A bad QR code could take you to a fake website that spreads malware or steals sensitive information like your login information, credit card information, or money.

Are random QR codes safe?

Scammers can change QR codes to get your financial or personal information. In some cases, they put a fake QR code over a real one, or they send you a QR code directly by text or email and say it leads to a free gift or coupon.

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