June 15, 2024

Online hoodwinkers target multitudes of British citizens daily — with the median victim being swindled out of about £325. But could your existing postcode heighten your odds of being hoodwinked?

A side effect of the universal lockdowns employed during the Covid-19 outbreak was the surge in cybercrimes. Felons had to devise ways to victimize individuals who were largely housebound.

And this rise in digital deception shows no hint of declining. BDO’s study, one of the world’s top five accounting networks, points out that frauds set the UK back by a staggering £2.3 billion past year — over two-fold the amount from 2022 and the second supreme annual sum recorded by BDO in the last twenty years.

McAfee, the cyber-security specialists, have broadcasted fresh research outlining precisely where these virtual crimes happen in the UK. Those domiciled in the capital ought to be particularly cautious.

A research carried out jointly by the anti-virus company, McAfee, and Censuswide, reveals that 18% of London’s inhabitants have been duped by an online con in the past year, thereby making the metropolis a hot spot for hustlers.

The research by McAfee discloses the UK hotspots where you’re mostly likely to encounter an online fraud

MCAFEE RESEARCH | GBN

Bristol, approximately the UK’s sixth-largest city in terms of population, ranked second in scams with 16%. Southampton secured the final top spot with 14% of its residents being defrauded. Since Southampton does not even feature in the UK cities’ population top 20, this is not essentially a matter of numbers.

McAfee also delved into the UK’s safest cities, having the least number of people deceived in online scams over the last year. Norwich reported the least online crime victims, with a paltry 2% of its inhabitants falling for online fraud. Belfast (3%) and Glasgow (4%) followed suit.

Online cons may take various forms, but one of the fastest-rising trends encompasses counterfeit QR codes, cautions McAfee’s security researchers.

The survey by McAfee finds that more than a fifth (21%) of all UK online frauds could have originated from a QR code, with the average loss amounting to £325.

Referred to as Quishing, this QR-code-based deception has seen a swift rise in recent times.

The McAfee researchers discovered 100,000 instances targeting UK people via email exclusively. The sheer volume suggests that a sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be behind this renewed surge, they inform us.

Ranking

City

Victims of Scams

1

London

18%

2

Bristol

16%

3

Southampton

14%

4

Nottingham

14%

5

Manchester

14%

6

Leeds

13%

7

Liverpool

12%

8

Sheffield

11%

9

Cardiff

10%

10

Birmingham

10%

11

Brighton

9%

12

Edinburgh

5%

13

Glasgow

4%

14

Plymouth

4%

15

Belfast

3%

16

Norwich

2%

QR codes have been around since the mid-90s but soared in usage during the Covid-19 pandemic when eateries, shops, and pubs tried to avert customers from sharing paper menus and other touchable objects. The QR codes were conceived by Denso Wave, a branch of Denso, itself an associate of car colossus Toyota, to track parts during the vehicle assembly procedure.

The design that makes up a QR code has the capacity to contain a significant amount of information — accommodating up to 4,000 characters of text. It could be used to point users to URLs, phone numbers, PDF documents, or begin a download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

QR codes are sometimes applied to verify online accounts and affirm login details. Launching a new session on WhatsApp Web requires iPhone and Android users to scan a QR code on their computer to confirm they’re the account holder.

Person scans QR code on phone

Scammers are observed placing counterfeit QR codes atop genuine ones in public spaces GETTY

These are also located in airports, parking lots, train stations, on hoardings and billboards. Hustlers have put fraudulent QR code stickers over valid ones to cheat unwary victims out of their money. A scam using this exact tactic cost one victim in Thornaby, north-east England, £13,000 last year. Following reports of such frauds, the rail company TransPennine Express removed all QR codes from its parking lots.

​Digital fraudsters capitalize on the user-friendliness of QR codes by employing doctored links posing as authorized websites, hoping you’ll be lured to a deceptive website designed to hoodwink you into making a payment, giving up your personal or financial details, or installing malware on your equipment.

With the aid of AI, these phishing websites are getting increasingly convincing and believable.

Discussing the study’s findings, Head of EMEA at McAfee, Vonny Gamot stated: “Although our research indicates that Londoners are more susceptible to scams, it doesn’t mean that individuals from other locations and regions are safe. Coupled with a marked increase in malicious QR code scams, which are inherently tough to identify, and considering the fact that over a fifth of all scams could have been initiated this way, it’s crucial we all revisit our online security.

“Being alert about the latest scams, like Quishing, is a significant step towards safeguarding your online privacy and identity. However, it is also prudent to be wary of any requests for information or money. Closely scrutinize URL previews appearing post a QR code scan and if something appears suspicious, don’t proceed. Always opt for the direct source and choose a recognized, dependable payment method.”

Recent analysis by NordVPN indicated that Gen Z, and Millennials employ QR codes the most among all age cohorts. One-third (31.5%) of individuals aged between 18 to 34 use QR codes to access public Wi-Fi. Also, 28% aged between 18 and 24 favor QR codes over paper menus in restaurants and pubs.

How to Guard Against QR Code Scams:

  • Exercise skepticism towards QR codes from unknown sources, such as emails and social media messages
  • Scrutinize the link appearing after scanning a QR code closely, as swindlers often alter addresses to look like legitimate websites with just a few character differences
  • Show wariness when scanning abridged links, particularly in unsolicited communications
  • Observe signs of tampering or dubious placement of QR codes in physical locations
  • Utilize your smartphone’s native QR code reader, such as iPhone’s built-in camera app and Google Lens mode