Don’t fall for copycat websites; you could lose money

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Copycat websites charge you for services that you could get for free (or much cheaper) by going direct to the government agency. They typically charge for passport renewal, filing your tax return or getting a driving licence. Don’t get caught out by them!

Spotting a copycat website
Copycat websites can look strikingly similar to official government websites, but they generally stay within the law (just), rather than doing anything illegal.

SAVVY TIP: These websites will normally have the words ‘Our service is not connected to or affiliated with the xxx government office’, or something similar, but the words may be buried in a paragraph of text.

The easiest way to make sure you don’t end up on a copycat website, is to type the domain name into your browser bar and search for the service you’re looking for, such as ‘passport’ or ‘driving licence’ on the site’s own search bar.

SAVVY TIP: The website is the government’s official ‘portal’ for all government services. Don’t just type the service you’re looking for into Google and then click on a website where the domain name ends in, because I’ve noticed that some of the copycat websites have an address ending xxx/ — I’m assuming to catch out more unsuspecting consumers.

Depending on the site you click on, you could infect your computer with a virus. I’ve just tried to click on one of the sites that says it provides EHICs (European Health Insurance Cards) and my anti-virus software wouldn’t let me visit the site. It said it detected a phishing link. Be warned!

If you’ve used one of these sites
If you’ve already used one of these websites, be aware that at best you’ll have paid over the odds for a service that’s free or relatively cheap and at worst the service that the company says it would provide may not have been delivered.

  • If you’ve paid by credit or debit card for a new passport through one of these copycat sites and it doesn’t arrive, you should be able to contact your bank or credit card provider and ask them to do a ‘chargeback’, which is essentially a reversal of the payment. If the service you paid for was for more than £100 and you paid by credit card, you may be able to make a claim against your card provider under Section 75.
  • If you’ve paid for this service and you later find out you could have got it cheaper by going direct to a government organisation, you wouldn’t be able to make a claim under chargeback or section 75. The only situation where this might be possible is if the site had no mention of the fact it wasn’t a government site and was guilty of ‘passing off’ ie using government logos etc.

Why aren’t these websites shut down?
I spoke to various organisations about these sites but the consensus seemed to be they aren’t doing anything illegal so can’t be closed down. Google has said it won’t take sponsored ads from these websites, however, these sites are still operating.

Related articles:

Using your EHIC or European Health Insurance Card; what does it give you?

What is vishing in banking and how can you protect yourself?

How to avoid investment scams

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