Copycat website crackdown – could you spot a fake site?

Passport

Ever had to pay a fee higher than usual to get your passport renewed? Were you led to believe you were dealing with a government agent? Chances are you came across a copycat website.

We’ve had more than 500 comments to our previous convo on copycat websites, with many of you angry at being saddled with unnecessary charges. Among the sites complained about was British Passport Services.

National Trading Standards has confirmed that five individuals who are alleged to be behind the British Passport Services site were arrested last week.

One of the five was Richard Howard, director of UK Services & Support Limited, the company through which the site is run.

No formal charges have yet been brought against Mr Howard or any of the other four detained, and the website is still available online and handling passport applications.

More than 500 people complained to Citizens Advice about the site – believing they were using the government site before realising they had in fact paid more than £100 to a private company.

In comparison, a standard adult first passport or renewal costs £72.50, or £82.25 if you use the Post Office’s Passport Check and Send service. Child passports cost £46, or £55.75 using Check and Send.

Can you spot a copycat website?

Working out which document-processing sites are official can be more difficult than you think. They often look official, sound official and, to be fair, tend to do the job – but at a completely unnecessary cost.

Any website that is claiming to be an official government website should have a .gov.uk address – you can find more advice in our guide on how to spot copycat websites.

Do you think that more should be done to stop copycat websites from misleading people? Have you been tricked by a copycat website?

Comments
Member

Excellent news that Richard Howard has been arrested and well done to his victims who had the guts to let him take them to court and Legal Beagles for their help and support.

Let us hope justice continues to prevail and he pays for his scamming.

Member

I don’t understand why people visit obviously commercial web sites for obtaining a British passport or other public sector services like EHICs. Unlike other countries’ top level domains, the UK’s .uk top level domain is divided into many sub-domains, e.g. .co.uk for private sector companies, .org.uk for non-commercial organisations and .gov.uk for the public sector. The UK domain name system thereby makes it immediately obvious whether a web site is commercial or public sector. Therefore why do people visit British Passport Services’ web site which is on an obviously commercial .co.uk domain? Rogue traders like British Passport Services are simply cashing in on many people’s blatant stupidity. Caveat emptor.

Member
Forgetful says:
11 July 2015

Not everyone is as smart as you !
It drives me crazy when I am trying to get to a bona fide website for visas, there are a dozen official looking sites that give advice, but never get to the actual embassy in question. They are invariable out of date too. Sometimes it is really hard to get the correct site, especially when that is in a foreign language, and not a .gov.uk site !

Member

You make a very good point about visas and embassy web sites. Some embassies operate on their home country’s government domain name (British and US embassies do this), whereas others use a bespoke domain name in each country (French embassies do this). The latter makes it very difficult to identify a genuine embassy web site.

Member
David L says:
11 July 2015

Not completely true as some fraudsters are using .org.

Member

David, you are correct that some fraudsters use .org domains, but that doesn’t negate anything that was said above. Can you explain your comment please?

Member

My experience is that a lot of non net savvy people easily fall prey to these websites.

Member

If someone is incapable of reading a web site’s address, then they shouldn’t be using the internet. It’s akin to letting someone drive who is incapable of reading road signs. Would these same people send their passport application to a postal address where the company name ends in Ltd or plc? This is no different.

Member

NFH – The UK government provides legislation to prevent incompetent, unlicensed and unlicensable drivers from causing harm to either themselves or their fellow citizens.

I think the aim of this thread is to discuss whether or not any form of intervention in the free market is appropriate here. As I see it, the alternative is that the default dodgy capitalist entrepreneurial principle of “it is morally wrong to let suckers keep their money” would then stand unopposed.