A recent incident at Thornaby Station reveals a concerning trend in digital scams. A woman, 71, lost £13,000 to fraudsters who cleverly replaced a real QR code with a fake one in the station’s car park. This act directed her to a fraudulent website, leading to a major loss of her money.

The victim of this scam experienced a complex and stressful situation. After using the fraudulent QR code, scammers contacted her, pretending to be her bank. They gained her trust and used her information to take money from her accounts, including a £7,500 loan.

VirginMoney, upon discovering the fraud, cancelled the loan and refunded the transactions to the victim. Despite this, the scammers had already managed to steal £4,700. The bank has now increased security on her accounts to protect her in the future.

After realising the extent of these QR scams, TransPennine Express, the rail company, removed all QR codes from its station car parks. This proactive step was taken to prevent similar scams from happening to others.

Rising Concerns

This is not an isolated case. In just over three years, the UK’s fraud reporting centre has seen about 1,200 cases involving QR scams, with more than 400 in 2023 alone. Alarmingly, more than a third of these incidents were reported in 2023, underscoring a steep rise in this particular form of cyber crime. This is likely due to their increasing integration into our everyday transactions — from retail checkouts to parking services. The simplicity of just a scan may be deceptive, leading to a false sense of security among users.

Several factors contribute to the rise in QR code scams. Firstly, the pandemic accelerated the use of contactless technologies, pushing QR codes to the forefront. Secondly, there’s a general lack of awareness about the potential risks associated with QR codes, making it easier for scammers to exploit.

The escalating trend of QR code scams is a reminder of the evolving challenges in cyber security. As a society that increasingly relies on digital convenience, we must also evolve our understanding of cyber threats. It’s crucial to remain informed and exercise caution with every scan.

At Labyrinth Cyber, we emphasise the importance of being cautious with digital technologies. This incident serves as a reminder of the risks involved and the need for vigilance. Technology brings convenience, but it also requires us to be alert and informed. We encourage everyone to double-check QR codes and be wary of unexpected requests for information, especially from people claiming to be from a bank.

If you think a scam has tricked you, it’s imperative to act swiftly. The first step is to reach out to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre. They are the authority on investigating and responding to fraudulent activities and cyber crime. By reporting your experience, you not only help yourself but also aid in the prevention of future scams against others.