Trading Standards chiefs are warning of a surge in complaints about copycat and misleading websites that charge for help in renewing or applying for official documents which could easily be done for free.
These complaints relate to internet sites that offer a service for items such as passports, blue badge permits, driving licences, HGV licences or to make a benefit claim or other Government-related services.
Although the website appears to be endorsed by, or be affiliated with the Government scheme, they are in fact not, warns West Yorkshire Trading Standards.
These websites charge for the process of applying or renewing for a product on their behalf. So not only will a consumer pay the normal cost for the product, but they will also be charged for the application process, when they could actually apply themselves at no extra cost.
Trading Standards is advising consumers to be careful when selecting internet sites, particularly those which come near the top of search engine pages.
David Lodge, head of West Yorkshire Trading Standards, said: “We have seen a rise in the number of residents who have fallen foul of websites which at first glance appear to be the appropriate Government pages. However, consumers have later realised that the money they’ve sent off isn’t actually to pay for the goods in question, but is to cover the administration process only.”
He also advises consumers to always remain vigilant whilst shopping on the internet, saying: “Check that the website you’re on has a ‘.gov.uk’ ending if you’re applying for a driving licence, passport or similar, and make sure you know who you are doing business with before sending off your money. If you believe you’ve been scammed by a fake website, please contact Citizens’ Advice.”
There are two different categories of websites:
- unofficial ‘copycat’ websites, which explain within their terms and conditions that they are not affiliated with any Government agency. Although they may look like the official website, if the site clearly states it is not endorsed or affiliated with a government agency and you decide to accept their fee, then the company is not committing any criminal offence
- misleading websites, which purport to be affiliated and associated with a Government agency and give the impression that you need to apply for the product through them at an extra cost, when in fact they have no such association and the consumer could have quite easily applied themselves for free.
People are being advised to carefully check the terms and conditions or this type of website to see who the organisation is and whether it claims to be affiliated with a Government organisation – check the URL, is it .com or .co.uk when it should be gov.uk.
To avoid such problems go direct to the relevant government department’s website or visit gov.uk for more information on renewing your passport, driving licence or HGV licence, blue badge permit or making a benefit claim.
Anyone who has concerns regarding a misleading website should call 0845 4040506.
In addition Trading Standards is warning residents to be on the look out for scam mailings, bogus e-mails and fraudulent phone calls during scam awareness month.