New kind of high-tech scams in China involve the use of QR codes

Scammers could replace legitimate QR codes with counterfeit ones to raid your bank account and get your data.

Yeo Kaiqi | August 14, 2017, 09:49 AM

The use of QR (quick response) codes for mobile payments has not really caught on in Singapore, but with the increasing popularity of bike-sharing services that utilise such codes, it is good to be aware of how it can become a source of potential scams by high-tech scammers to steal money and data from unknowing users.

QR code scams on the rise in China

Such scams are now on the rise in China, a country where QR codes are used in a wide range of services. Scammers are now taking advantage of the technology in a society that is transforming fast into a cashless one with the widespread adoption of mobile payments.

For example, in Guangdong province alone, about 90 million yuan (SGD$18 million) has reportedly been stolen via QR code scams.

Easy to manipulate

They may look like harmless barcodes, but the intricate design of QR codes is the very reason why they are now popular among scammers.

As these codes are hard to verify with the naked eye, scammers would make fake copies to attach them to areas where people usually scan QR codes to make payments, so as to cheat unsuspecting consumers into transferring money into the wrong hands.

Moreover, scammers can easily manipulate the codes for their fraudulent activities as the technology is still not very secure.

In such cases, scammers would embed malevolent softwares into these barcodes that can latch onto smartphones, stealing personal data and draining individual's bank account.

To see how QR codes are used in China, watch this video:


Awareness is useful

For users of China's WeChat Pay or Taobao, more advanced technology has been introduced to fight against scams. Security prompts are now issued in the event that fraud risks are detected.

In Singapore, though such scams remain rare, awareness of such scams is always useful, as we come into contact with QR codes more and more frequently.

For a start, users of bike-sharing services may need to be on guard against potential QR code scams. If they are not careful, the QR codes that are used to unlock the bikes may well cause them to become the latest victims of scams.

Top image from Getty.