/ Money, Motoring

Scam watch: driving licence renewals

Denis was almost fooled into paying a lot more than he needed to renew his driving licence by a copycat website. Does this ring any bells with you?

Denis Kearney told us:

‘If you’re over 70, watch out for copycat websites when renewing your driving licence. A website that often pops up when searching online looks just like the official DVLA website, but it charges you 90p to renew your licence. If you pay, you will also be enrolled into a recurring fortnightly charge of £38 for services.

‘The website asks for personal details to be submitted via an authentic-looking form, but this information doesn’t go to the DVLA. Instead, you’ll be sent the official application form to your home address. Thankfully, upon inspection of the small print, I spotted that these additional charges would be made and cancelled my card before any more money was taken.

‘Even if these sites are technically legal, they deliberately set out to deceive people.’

Our say on copycat sites

You should always go directly to the official ‘gov.uk’ website for government services – such as passport or driving licence renewals – rather than relying on search engines, where the results can display copycat websites.

These often charge an over-the-top fee for a free service, or mislead you into signing up for recurring payments. If you fall for one of these, you should be able to get your money back using Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act (if you paid by credit card) or a chargeback claim (debit card).

It’s illegal for a copycat website to parade itself as a government entity. We have called for a crackdown against sites that don’t prominently display that they’re not associated with the government and that you can get a passport or driving licence without additional costs through the official government website.

We have also pressed search engines to stop displaying adverts for copycat websites at the top of search results. Google has taken action to remove copycat sites for paid search results and has worked to ensure that the official gov.uk sites come top. If you see a misleading website, please report them to search engines on gov.uk.

Have you ever come across a copycat website for driving licence renewals?

Useful links:

Read Which? advice on how to spot a copycat website
Renew your driving licence on the official gov.uk DVLA website
Report a misleading website to search engines on gov.uk

Comments
Karen Shephard says:
17 February 2021

Like the rest of you l have been scamed £79 what are the chances of getting my money back very slim i have spoken to my bank and they have told me to read the terms and conditions to try for refound please please warn people of this scam!!!

Karen – I’m sorry to hear you were duped by a copycat website. Some people seem to have had a partial refund but usually there is no response to a claim from the perpetrators.

Your bank is technically correct – people should read the T’s & C’s before using websites, but if your bank or credit card issuer has processed a payment to a dodgy outfit then I think they should take action to withhold payments, reimburse users, and withdraw payment facilities from them; that would probably require cooperation from other banks and credit card companies.

Because the amount is less than £100, the chargeback facility under s.75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 is not applicable so realistically I doubt you will recover your loss.

As to publicising this deceitful practice, the warnings are out there and have been for several years and it has featured on Which? Conversation and on the Which? website a number of times. Other media have also picked it up from time to time. The internet search engine providers have not helped as much as they could to reduce the prominence of impostor websites in search results or to present them in distinctive ways [see previous comments here].

These rogue websites usually carry a disclaimer dissociating themselves from the DVLA or the government, but that is usually easily missed; the lesson is to read all the way through the entry page on any website and, if applying for something provided by the government, to only go via the GOV.UK portal or to look for the ‘.gov.uk’ address on the website header; if it doesn’t have that domain ending it’s not official.

Jaclient blundell says:
19 February 2021

I was also scamed and when I asked for my money back I was offered £30 back I will be more careful in future,the website is practically the same

Here is an article I mentioned earlier: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-48175430

Google is still putting links to copycat services at the top of the page, ahead of the link to the government website. Google will be receiving payment from these services. Nothing has changed in recent years apart from the adverts now being marked as such.

The marking of adverts in the search results is almost invisible – I don’t use Google but in my search engine it is a small and feint ‘AD’ in a feint box. I think adverts should be in a strongly contrasting colour and a different font so they cannot be confused with the search engine results.

What you see will depend on what software you are using, John. Here is a screen capture showing what I see on my computer:

?1

The adverts are search engine results so cannot be distinguished as you have suggested. I find the labelling very clear though at one time the ‘Ad’ label was in a yellow box, which was probably more obvious.

Thanks, Wavechange. I expected there to be differences in presentation between different browsers/search engines.

I just searched for ‘driving licence renewal’ on Google and saw that the ‘Ad’ prefix is in bold type and the general layout is clearer than on mine, nevertheless the official GOV.UK entry is still number five in the list.

In my early days of on-line activity I don’t think monetising the search function had occurred; now it’s prolific and, presumably, hugely profitable.

Wow, it does rather depend on your browser.

Firefox and Internet Explorer only return the government websites but the first four results in Opera are all ads for copycat sites. All searches were using Google as the search engine.

It’s fascinating to compare the results of different combinations of browsers and search engines. Clearing your browsing history may affect the results of searches because sites you have visited recently can be prioritised.

The web was wonderful in the days before the commercial world discovered it.

paul shapland says:
24 February 2021

I have had a issue with them to. I renewed my wife driving licence on what I thought was the DVLA site, then once processed I realised it was not the gov site, I contacted them and I am still trying to get my money back, they charged me £93 for a £14 renewal. Conplent con.