If You Notice This While Parking, Contact the Authorities, Police Warn

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Anyone who drives regularly knows how much of a pain parking can be. From unexpected tickets to never finding a spot when you need it most, it can be one of the most inconvenient parts of owning a vehicle. But the next time you're parking, police are warning that you should be on the lookout for one other thing that could cause you serious grief. Read on to see what you should report to authorities if you notice it while feeding the meter.

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You should report a QR code on parking meters to authorities if you notice one.

Thanks in no small part to the pandemic, QR codes—which stand for "quick response" codes— have gone from being a niche tech tool to the way we access everything from takeout menus to tax forms, all by simply using your smartphone's camera. But according to police, they're also being used by scammers to trick drivers out of sensitive information, Ars Technica reports.

On Dec. 20, the San Antonio Police Department issued a public warning that fraudsters were sticking the scannable squares to public meters, saying that "people attempting to pay for parking using those QR codes may have been directed to a fraudulent website and submitted payment to a fraudulent vendor." Unsuspecting victims who used the codes while attempting to pay for parking were actually handing over their credit card information to fraudsters. Unfortunately, police also reported similar parking scams to have taken place in Austin and Houston.

Officials say QR codes are too insecure to be used for services like public parking.

While they may now be seen as a handy tool that can direct your phone's web browser where it needs to go, experts point out that QR codes also have drawbacks when it comes to security. They warn that the ease of pulling up a website using the scannable squares also means it can be hard to know when you've been directed to a fraudulent or malicious website, The Verge reports.

"We don't use QR codes at all for this very reason, because they are easy to fake or place on the devices," Jason Redfern, Austin parking division manager, told local NBC affiliate KXAN. "And we heard from industry leaders that this would be a possibility," adding that the city only accepts payments of cash, coins, or credit card at the meter or through the use of the city's mobile payment app.

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Anyone who notices QR codes attached to parking meters should call authorities immediately.

According to a press release from Austin city officials, the city is still "continuing to inspect the City's more than 900 pay stations to ensure there are no additional QR codes in use." However, they still urge people to file a police report by dialing 3-1-1 if they notice a code on a meter. But, Redfern said: "Absolutely do not take a picture of it or use your camera anywhere near that QR code."

If you believe you may have accidentally fallen for the scam, you should also take action. "Any person who believes they were a victim of a credit card breach due to recent parking meter payments should file a police report and notify their card issuer immediately," the city said in its statement.

Police in other states have urged residents to be on the lookout for similar scams using QR codes.

Even though the only reported parking QR code scams so far have taken place in Texas, law enforcement around the U.S. is warning that copycat fraudsters could attempt the same crime. On Jan. 12, the Massachusetts State Police issued a warning of the scam via Twitter, urging citizens in the Bay State to be on the lookout for similar "phishing" tactics. Instead of scanning with your phone, officials say you should keep paying the city directly through a municipal app or using cash or a credit card at designated meters.

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