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Copycat Websites

Copycat websites are those which offer services from government departments or local government, but are not the official site and charge an often substantial premium for those services, often with no tangible benefit to the customer. They achieve this by using website tools to achieve high positions in search engines such as Google, often ranking them higher than the official site and making it appear as though they are ‘official’ or ‘authorised’. They also have website addresses designed to confuse with the official site, and often feature a similar look and feel and brand design.

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  • Always be sure that you are using the official website, as copycat sites can occupy many of the top listings on your search engine page and end up costing you unnecessary money.

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. 

The Risks

  • 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:
    • Passports.
    • 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..