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Scammers Stick Fake QR Codes on Parking Meters To Collect Fees

Scammers have taken to placing fraudulent QR codes on parking meters, leading unknowing drivers to unwittingly provide their personal information.
UPDATED AUG 24, 2023
Cover Image Source: Dowell/Getty Images
Cover Image Source: Dowell/Getty Images

While legitimate organizations, ranging from Super Bowl advertisements to parking fee enforcement, continue to heavily utilize QR codes, scammers have also taken advantage of this technology for their malicious intentions. Fraudulent QR codes have been discovered by parking enforcement officers in several major Texas cities, including Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. Scammers are placing these fake QR codes on parking meters to deceive people into making payments to the fraudsters.

Image Source: Virojit/Getty Images
Image Source: Virojit/Getty Images

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Beware of the QR codes at parking stations

Parking methods have evolved, and the days of feeding meters with quarters are becoming less common. Nowadays, a prevalent trend is to pay for parking by scanning a credit card or a QR code. However, scammers have seized this opportunity to exploit unsuspecting individuals as per this article on NBC Boston

According to the Better Business Bureau's scam tracker, there has been a notable increase in QR code parking scams across the country. Scammers have taken to placing fraudulent QR codes on parking meters, leading unknowing drivers to unwittingly provide their personal information.

Image Source: Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images
Image Source: Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

Paula Fleming from the Better Business Bureau cautions that these scam QR codes often appear authentic, luring victims into scanning them and providing their credit card or debit card details. However, behind these codes lie phishing websites or fraudulent payment portals. The consequence is that individuals end up experiencing unauthorized withdrawals from their credit cards in seemingly insignificant increments, which cumulatively result in substantial financial losses.

Also Read: Voice Cloning AI Scams — How to Stay Safe

How the scammers get you

The scam takes place when you are looking for a parking slot and find a parking meter with a QR code that reads 'Pay for Parking Here'. Feeling lucky of finding a place to park in a busy area you take your phone and pay through the QR code. As you go ahead and make the payment, you unknowingly end up using and sharing your credit card details or your email. Though you don't receive any proof of parking, a small amount is charged to your credit card, which you assume covers the parking fee.

However, a few weeks later, you're in for an unpleasant surprise as you spot another charge on your credit card. On your statement, you see a charge and you would believe that it is for parking. This recurring transaction is not related to parking fees and gets transferred to some fictitious company's account set up by scammers. It dawns on you that the QR code you scanned was nothing more than a cleverly crafted fake, and your sensitive information is now in the hands of a scammer.

A victim of this scam shared their experience, stating that he attempted to purchase a parking voucher using the QR code on a city parking meter. Despite scanning and making a payment, he received no proof of parking. On the same day, the victim noticed another charge of $1.98 on his credit card and later discovered a recurring charge of $49.99 on the credit card for three consecutive months. "I tried calling and emailing the company with no luck. So, now I have to cancel the card.” the victim said. 

Image Source: Grace Carry/Getty Images
Image Source: Grace Carry/Getty Images

Tips for steering clear of impostor QR scams

1. Opt for direct payment: When paying for parking, use your credit card directly at the machine or meter instead of scanning QR codes. This ensures a more secure transaction.

2. Be cautious with short links: Avoid scanning QR codes that promise to open URL-shortened links. These links may lead to malicious websites or not be associated with the organization you intend to pay.

3. Check for tampering: Look closely for any signs of tampering around QR code stickers. Scammers might place fake codes on top of legitimate ones to deceive unsuspecting users.

4. Use QR scanners with added protection: Consider installing QR scanner apps from reputable antivirus companies that offer protection against phishing scams, suspicious links, and forced app downloads. These secure scanners provide an extra layer of protection before clicking on any QR code links.