Google does not allow promotion of firms which charge fees for services that are free from an official site, yet the copycat sites persist. They are meant to prominently display that the service they are offering is available free of charge or for a lower fee, but this often displayed in small type at the bottom of the page, or not at all. At least one government agency has taken action with the Advertising Standards Authority against sites which have copied their official logo and branding, and in March 2018, six people received substantial jail sentences following a major investigation carried out by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team.
- Being misled into paying excessive prices for official services which can be purchased on the government department or local government site at the correct price. These services include:
- Birth and death certificates.
- Fishing licences.
- Driving licences.
- Driving tests.
- Congestion Charge.
- European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC).
- Being told that using copycat sites make a particular process or application faster or easier, when in fact you could do it yourself equally quickly and easily.
Searching and buying official services safely
- Do not automatically opt to use the first website(s) you find in a search engine, even if the address seems authentic and you are in a hurry.
- Instead, take time to look for the official website. You can normally tell that site is official if it ends in ‘.gov.uk’, it has the department, agency or council’s authentic logo and contact details and the prices are cheaper.
- If you do opt to use an unofficial site to purchase official services, make sure that the payment page is secure by checking that the address begins with ‘https://’ (the ‘s’ is short for ‘secure’) and there is a locked padlock in the browser window.
If you think you have been misled into overpaying by using an unofficial site:
- Contact the site to insist on a refund, saying you think you were misled.
- Contact the relevant government department or agency or local government organisation and report the copycat site..