Scammers turn to QR codes as banks warn of Christmas danger

Scammers care nothing for the lives they ruin.

Scammers care nothing for the lives they ruin. Photo: TND

Banks and consumer groups are warning that Christmas-time scams are on the rise, but criminals are turning to a new way of stealing personal data using COVID-era QR codes.

Ben Young, Westpac’s head of fraud, said more than half of reported buying and selling scams last year occurred in November and December.

“Scammers often target customers at this time of year when people are spending more and can sometimes be a bit more distracted,” he said.

“To put this into perspective, Westpac facilitated more than 31 million point-of-sale transactions during the recent Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales leading to a 5 per cent increase in fraud-related calls.”

Westpac’s research found that 38 per cent of Australians encountered a scam through fake websites, online retailers and marketplaces.

A new scam

QR codes were firmly out of fashion by 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for contactless menus, ordering and services, brought the technology back into vogue.

America’s consumer watchdog, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has warned that scammers are hiding harmful links in QR codes at places like parking meters, cafes and bars.


Malicious links, hidden in QR codes, are a new scam. Photo: Supplied

According to the FTC, other ways of convincing people to use fraudulent QR codes include lies about packages not being delivered, pretending there is a problem with an account or claiming there is fraudulent activity on your account and a password change is required.

Young said it is important that payment details are confirmed before any money is sent to the supplier or business.

“Never click on links sent via SMS or email and be cautious about anyone who instructs you to urgently download an app or install a program onto your mobile or computer,” he said.

“If a business requests unusual payment methods, such as through cryptocurrency or as a direct bank transfer, you should take extra care and check if the business is legitimate before sending them any money.”

Once the link is clicked, any information logged is stolen or malware is installed on the device.

Other scams

According to Westpac, there are several other popular scams to watch out for over the Christmas period:

  • Scammers entice people to fake websites through social media advertising
  • Preying on parcel anxiety with fake updates through SMS or email
  • Offering fake investments that appear too good to be true.

Young said investment scams remain one of the biggest challenges and account for half of all losses.

“These scams can be appealing because they promise lucrative returns and scammers invest a lot of time grooming victims, making them very difficult to spot,” he said.

“Other common scam tactics include issuing fake invoices with altered payment details and tricking you into downloading software or installing apps on your devices that allow the scammer to access personal information like emails, passwords or even your banking details.”

In Australia, losses reported to Scamwatch on social media have increased to more than $66 million in 2023, an increase of 40 per cent from 2022.

Choice, a consumer group, has joined 20 other organisations around the world to call on governments to require social media and technology companies to protect consumers against scams.

“Tech giants such as Facebook, Instagram and Google are failing to prevent scammers from using their platforms to target victims, causing enormous amounts of harm to consumers globally,” Choice campaigns and policy adviser Alex Soderlund said.

“These tech companies have the resources and technology to do more to protect everyone from scammers, but they won’t implement effective protections until the law requires it.”

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