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Scammers using fake QR codes on parking meters
© Scott Jones |
Security & privacy

Scammers have a new money-stealing trick: Fraudulent QR codes on parking meters

In many cities around the country, finding a parking spot can be a nightmare. When you manage to get one, you also have to contend with the parking meter. Never lose your car in a parking lot again with this clever trick.

Popping a few coins in the slot seems simple, but it presents a challenge when you don’t have any change. A handy solution? Pay electronically through your phone. In many cases, you scan the QR code on the meter and you’re all set.

Or are you? Read on to discover why QR codes have become a growing problem and how scanning them could cost you big time.

Here’s the backstory

Quick Response (or QR) codes have been around for some time. You’ve likely seen them on posters, restaurant menus, or in parking garages. The squares look like they consist of random lines or patterns, but they can store a lot of data.

In most cases, when you scan a QR code through your mobile device’s camera, you will be taken to a specific website. For restaurants, many establishments have moved to a QR code-based system where you can scan it to see the menu.

However, scammers have been sticking QR codes on parking meters in recent days. The goal is to trick drivers into thinking that they can pay for their parking by scanning the code. But in reality, it will take them to a fake website that will capture and steal their banking details.

It has become such a problem that the Austin, Texas police department issued a warning for drivers not to use the fraudulent QR codes.

As Kim recently explained on her radio show: “People think that they are paying for parking when they are actually at a fraudulent site scamming credit card numbers and money. Don’t fall for it.”

What you can do about it

While the Austin police have highlighted the growing problem, it will only be a matter of time before it spreads to other parts of the country. With the help of media exposure, one of the fake sites has already been taken offline.

Here are some tips on how to stay safe when looking (and paying) for parking:

  • QR codes aren’t the enemy, but the people who direct them to fake websites are. While the QR code at your restaurant should be legitimate, always make sure that it directs to the website that it claims it will. If it’s not, stop browsing immediately.
  • Never enter your banking details on a website you don’t know or trust. Especially if it comes from a random sticker on the sidewalk.
  • If QR codes are used to pay for parking in your city, make sure that you have the official app downloaded. Also, only download mobile apps from the correct app stores and not from third-party app stores.

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