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FBI Sounds Alarm as QR Code Usage Soars

76 million Americans scanned a QR code in 2021, up 44% from 2019
Data: Insider Intelligence; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios
Data: Insider Intelligence; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

The pandemic has accelerated the usage of QR codes, taking them from niche status to an essential tool for businesses and marketers.

  • Look no further than Sunday's Super Bowl commercial of nothing but a floating QR code sending users to the website of Coinbase.

By the numbers: 76 million Americans scanned a QR code in 2021, up 44% from 2019, according to eMarketer.

  • That’s expected to rise to 100 million by 2025.

Of note: During the pandemic, many restaurants have replaced physical menus with QR codes that diners scan to peruse food and drink options.

  • Marketers are now poised to embrace the “gamification” of QR codes, encouraging users to scan them to get deals, product details and reviews, according to eMarketer.

Yes, but: Law enforcement officials are sounding the alarm about the risks.

Threat level: The FBI issued an alert in January warning Americans that cybercriminals “are tampering with QR codes to redirect victims to malicious sites that steal login and financial information.”

  • If you’re scanning a physical code, make sure it hasn’t been tampered with. For example, watch out for “a sticker placed on top of the original code,” the FBI advises.

The bottom line: QR codes can be helpful. But don’t click unless you’ve verified that the source is legitimate — and make sure the site is authentic once you reach your digital destination.

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