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What Are QR Codes and How Can They Be Used Safely?

What Are QR Codes and How Can They Be Used Safely?

February 3, 2022 4 min read

For a lot of people, QR codes used to be peculiar little symbols that looked like a marketing gimmick or a 21st century coat of arms. Then the pandemic hit and suddenly QR codes began to be used for everything in everyday life, from restaurant menus to vaccine appointment sign-ins. It is now nearly impossible to go anywhere or do anything without seeing one, but what are QR codes really and what do they stand for? What can they be used for? Are they safe? Do they have long-term staying power or are they just a fad?

QR or “Quick Response” codes are a lot of things to a lot of people. They were invented in 1994 by a young engineer named Masahiro Hara to solve a specific problem: conventional bar codes can’t store much information. Masahiro worked for the subsidiary of an automotive manufacturer, Denso Wave, and it was annoying for workers to have to scan multiple bar codes to track a single part.

Although Denso gave up patent rights for the invention so anyone could use the technology freely, QR codes didn’t start to take off until a couple of decades later when smartphone cameras were equipped with scanners capable of reading the codes.

How QR Codes work

A QR code is like a three-dimensional bar code that allows a lot more information to be included and stored because the characters are read from top to bottom and from right to left, instead of just from top to bottom. The information stored can include phone numbers, a website address, or up to 4,000 characters of text. Some of their uses include:

  • COVID passports: a QR code is downloaded as a digital file for proof of vaccination.
  • Wi-Fi access: login details can be stored in a QR code.
  • Online account verification.
  • A URL address to download an app.
  • To send and receive payment information: price information can be included in a QR code by retailers. Customers then scan the code and pay using a payment app.
  • In education, the codes can be used to share activities and links with students.
  • As a marketing tool, a QR code can include information to be downloaded or a link to a website.

In some Asian countries, QR codes were already well established for payments before the pandemic hit but their uptake in other countries has been meteoric since the global health crisis began. Eighty-three percent of people surveyed by Statista last April said they had used a QR code as a payment method, up from just 36% six months prior.

If you are new to QR codes, scanning one is easy:

  • Open the camera application on your smartphone and point the camera at the code. The codes provide the camera with information about orientation, so the angle does not matter.
  • You will see the information on the screen of your phone, or you will be redirected to a website with the information. If the QR code is a menu at a restaurant for example, you should see the menu on your phone’s screen.

Are QR codes safe?

Just like the rest of us, cybercriminals are also using QR codes, as the FBI recently warned, so you should exercise caution when scanning one. Both digital and physical QR codes can be tampered with to replace legitimate codes with malicious ones. A corrupt code can include malware that allows a criminal to gain access to the user’s phone. In the case of a business using a QR code to facilitate payment, that code can be replaced with a tampered QR code that redirects the sender’s payment.

How can you protect yourself when using QR codes?

  • After you scan a QR code, check the URL to make sure the address looks legitimate with no misplaced letters or errors.
  • Always be careful when entering login, personal or financial information when directed to a site via a QR code.
  • When scanning a physical QR code, make sure the code is legitimate and isn’t a sticker covering an authentic code.
  • Do not download an app from a QR code. Use your phone’s app store for safe downloads.
  • Do not download a QR code scanner app: you could be downloading malware to your device.
  • If in doubt about a payment involving a QR code, locate the company’s phone number from a reliable source and call to verify the information directly with the company.

See more articles on the latest technological advances, trends, and innovative solutions in the Tech section of The Ria Blog.

For more info: comms@riamoneytransfer.com

About the author

Arthur Guzzo

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