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The country is rapidly moving towards a cashless economy as digital transactions have made life easier by eliminating the need of travelling to pay cash. Just log on to the internet and NEFT or RTGS transactions are completed via a short-term payment called the Unified Payment Interface (UPI), offered by the National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI).

UPI has become one of the most popular payment gateways. Simply scan a Quick Response (QR) code and enter a four-digit PIN to authorise a financial transaction, and the entire transaction is completed in seconds. Many payment applications which use QR codes are Google Pay, Paytm, PhonePe, BHIM, Mobi Kwik, Payz, Razorpay etc.

A QR code is a scannable barcode encoded with data. However, fraudsters are now taking this convenience as an opportunity and creating their own QR codes to steal personal information and money from gullible victims.

Shopping QR code scan fraud

Many crimes are committed through phishing calls, SMS/emails, or social media. Scammers have now changed their modus operandi to QR code scanning fraud, and let’s discuss how QR code fraud happens. Victims lose money as soon as they scan the code, unaware of the fact that scanning the code loses money.

* Step 1: On online marketplaces and classified advertising portals, most advertise buying or selling of a second-hand car, a bike, etc. As soon as he sees the advertisement, he poses as a prospective buyer, negotiates the price and seeks all information, and also asks for bank account and related details.

* Step 2: Scammer calls you and says he is unable to pay the bank, citing technical details, and engages you in a hurried phone conversation before sending the QR code and requesting you to scan it.

* Step 3: Scammers keep talking to you and divert your attention so that you do not think of anything else other than receiving the money. As per instructions of the prospective buyer (fraudster), the victim scans the QR code, assuming that QR scanning will get you money. But money is debited instead of being credited.

QR code scan frauds

* One method is to send text messages such as “Congratulations on winning Rs 5,00,000, along with a picture of a QR code.” The message will lure the victim into scanning the code and entering the amount, followed by a UPI PIN to receive the cash into the account.

* Another method includes using false QR codes in phishing emails, texts, or social media posts. After scanning the QR code, users are assured of refunds or offers, where the victim may be invited to scan the QR code to receive funds

* A fake QR code might take you to a website that might install malware onto your smartphone or laptop or try to trick them into entering credit or debit card information or stealing other sensitive personal data.

* The buyer from the online marketplace and classified advertising portals demands you to send the item before they pay for it or provides fake payment proofs.

How to stay safe

Remember that QR codes are generally used for paying money and there is no way to receive money through the process. If someone asks you to scan a code to receive money, this is most likely a scam.

* If you receive an SMS requesting you to send money, do not proceed

* If the buyer insists you to fill in a PIN, stop interacting with the buyer

* Do not EVER enter your PIN

* Put a little extra effort to report a seller or Ad that you sense is a fraudster

* Never call customer care numbers shown on Google; Look for emails and telephone numbers mentioned in the respective portals and applications.

* As UPI payments can link multiple bank accounts, try to use limited personal bank accounts to avoid being a victim, using a salary account is not suggested.

What to do if a QR Code fraud happens

* Ensure you take screenshots of fraudulent transactions and report them on the respective e-commerce portals or apps.

* Register a complaint on https://cybercrime.gov.in/ or else reach out to nearby police stations to lodge a complaint. Alternatively, victims can call Helpline No 1930, which is manned and operated by State Police officers.

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Author: Howard Caldwell