Copycat 'government' websites banned by advertising watchdog
Three dodgy copycat websites have been banned.
The sites used carefully-chosen language to trick people into believing they were official government-backed sites, when in reality they were designed to persuade people into handing over fees they don't need to pay.
The sites banned by the Advertising Standards Authority yesterday were europeanhealthcard.org.uk, uk-officialservices.co.uk and ukpassportoffices.co.uk, but there are many more similar unscrupulous sites online.
The copycat government websites often pay to top Google rankings which means if you put the words "tax return" into a search engine, for instance, you are likely to be directed to a dodgy site rather an official one.
The trick is to charge you for something you can get for free. In many cases it's hundreds of pounds that you don't need to spend.
Scammers target people wishing to submit tax returns, pay congestion charges or renew their driving licences. But they are also happy to charge you £70-£100 just to send out a form to apply for a European Health Card– which is available free through official government sites – or to renew your passport, which can be picked up free from major Post Offices.
More than 5,000 complaints were made to Citizens Advice last year about the sites and 700 to the ASA which said it has decided "to conduct several investigations to establish a clear position on how copycat websites should present their services to avoid misleading consumers."
An investigation by Which? this year examined 10 websites offering services for passport applications, EHIC cards and tax returns. It found them to be misleading, providing poor value for money and left some consumers up to £1,000 out of pocket.
To report a misleading website call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06