Don’t be fooled by copycat websites, Get Safe Online warns
3rd April, 2014 – LONDON – As yet more scams come to light, not-for-profit organisation Get Safe Online has today issued a warning around ‘copycat websites’.
Copycat websites offer services from government departments or local government, such as paying congestion charges, applying for passports or the European Health Insurance Card, but are not the official site. Although these sites not illegal, they often charge a substantial premium for the same service as the official website.
Progress is being made, with the government pledging extra funds to the National Trading Standards Boards to identify, investigate and take action against misleading websites earlier this month, but more work must be done to raise awareness of these deceptive and fake websites. Well-known search engines do not allow promotion of firms which charge fees for services that are free from an official site, yet the copycat sites persist.
In addition, there are illegal, fake websites to be wary of. These fraudulent websites are designed to look and feel like the official website – but simply take the money and leave consumers out of pocket with nothing to show for it.
Tony Neate, CEO Get Safe Online, said: “What’s confusing is that there are illegal websites that offer fake or no products at all. Then there are these kinds of misleading copycat sites that are becoming more prevalent, and causing consumers to unintentionally pay over the odds. People must be extra vigilant and follow our advice to avoid falling into either trap. We do not want consumers to pay an extra fee for something that is available for less – or in some cases for free – on the official website, or be caught out by a fraudulent website which is simply theft.”
Barbara Sinclair from Sutton Coldfield, recently lost paid £180 to a third party website when renewing her car tax online, but if she had gone to the official DVLA website it would have cost £40 less. While the copycat company is not doing anything illegal, Barbara paid over the odds with no real benefit.
Barbara is now joining Get Safe Online to raise awareness of websites which aren’t quite as the first appear. She commented: “More people need to be aware of these websites which are charging a premium you don’t actually need to pay. The layout can be nearly exactly the same as the genuine site, so people need to look out for other tell-tale signs like the URL not ending in ‘gov.uk’, and small notices on the website that state the website is not affiliated with the official government department. It’s outrageous that so many people are paying more than they should and getting nothing for it.”
Passport Renewal Scam:
Thomas Finlayson unwittingly visited an illegal, fake website to renew his passport online. He paid £69 by credit card to a website posing as The Post Office and only realised he had been scammed after The Post Office made him aware it had not received the £72 he had meant to pay them.
Thomas said: “Because the website was so authentic-looking I had no reason to believe I had stumbled across a fake. People must do their research to make sure they are not giving their money away to a fraudster with nothing to show for it.”
Get Safe Online recommends the following tips for consumers using government services online:
- 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
- Do your research to check if there are reviews about the site online, and if there are contact details available – if there aren’t you should be wary of using them and if there are, test them out
- You can normally tell that site is official if it ends in ‘.gov.uk’
- Look out for notices on the website that it is not affiliated with the official service
- If you do opt to use an unofficial site to purchase official services, make sure that the payment page is secure by looking out for three things:
- There should be a padlock symbol in the browser
window frame, which appears when you attempt to log in or register. Be sure that the padlock is not on the page itself ... this will probably indicate a fraudulent site.
- The web address should begin with ‘https://’. The ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’.
- If using the latest version of your browser
, the address bar or the name of the site owner will turn green.
- If you think you have been the victim of fraud you should report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk