/ Money, Technology, Travel & Leisure

Have you been tricked by a copycat website?

Passport

Ever had to pay a fee to get your passport or driving licence renewed? What about to do your self-assessment tax return? Chances are you came across a copycat website – if so, tell us about it.

Would you be happy paying for something you could’ve done yourself cheaper or even for free? No? Me neither. Yet, that is what’s happening to thousands of people online every day.

If you haven’t been tricked by a copycat website, there’s a chance you know someone who has. These sites charge a fee to process applications for official documents, such as passports, tax returns, visas, birth certificates, driving licenses and even the London congestion charge.

They often look official, sound official and, to be fair, tend to do the job – but at a completely unnecessary cost.

Devious document processing sites

We’ve been taking a closer look at these document-processing sites, and working out which ones are official can be more difficult than you think. For example, when you search online to renew your passport, copycat sites often appear at the top of the search results as they’ve paid to have their links promoted.

We think some of the wording in those search engine adverts can also cause confusion. In fact, we recently reported two passport processing websites to Google and the Advertising Standards Authority, because we thought they were using misleading language in adverts on Google. We felt that the ads for these sites suggested that they were affiliated with the official HM Passport Office website.

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

The cost of copycat sites

It also doesn’t help matters that some copycat websites can look more professional and appealing than the official ones. In fact, our scams investigation last year revealed that half of those who came into contact with a copycat website said they were fooled by them.

The average amount of money paid to these websites is £34. That might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that about 1,000 people unwittingly use unofficial sites to pay the London congestion charge every day, that small amount can soon add up to big bucks.

Plus, when you can usually get these services for free, it’s frustrating to see people being fooled into paying over-the-odds.

These companies may claim to provide an extra level of customer service that official channels don’t. However, we don’t think they do anything important that you can’t do yourself for free through official sites. As a result, we think copycat sites are a complete waste of money.

Have you been tricked by a copycat website? What were you applying for? How much did you pay? Do you think the government should do more to stop these sites from misleading people?

Comments
Profile photo of Nick S
Member

Another day, another loss in court for British Passport Services. This time in Weston Super Mare County Court.

So that’s 4 cases heard and 4 lost. When are they going to learn?

Member
Natasha says:
29 May 2015

I am having a real difficult time with British Passport Service org.uk which are sending me very threatening emails again saying The Court has awarded them Judgement in their favour in relations court proceedings . There will be a file which will make it difficult for me to secure credit!

I am very worried,

Natasha

Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member

Hi Natasha. They may have obtained a judgment in default – you can check this with trust-online or give the court a ring (Northampton county court business centre) and ask them. You CAN apply to have the judgment set aside but there is a cost involved in doing that (£155 unless eligible for fee remission). If you decide not to do this then you will need to pay the judgment within 28 days so it doesn’t get stuck against your credit file for six years.

Have you not received any letters from the court at all ?
Have you moved house since ”signing up” with BPS ?

If you want to have a look on LegalBeagles there’s lots of people there in a similar position with this company.

Sharon

Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member

Another win in court against BPS this morning…. damages awarded to Defendant.

Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member
Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Thanks for providing that link – well worth reading. A very useful judgment comprehensively dismissing the BPS claim. “Want of good faith” – a valuable consideration in looking at other actions using the Unfair Terms in
Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. Some nice additional comments from the good Judge Raggett on cancellation of the service by the customer, confirming that charges should only be commensurate with the service(s) actually provided up to that point. Since the whole claim by BPS was ruled unenforceable that was just an observation but a useful reminder of the principle.

Hopefully this will collapse the cases against all the other people who were misled by the website and are still being pursued by BPS. I should be interested to know whether people against whom a judgment against them in default was entered can now claim reimbursement. Presumably those who elected to pay rather than challenge have lost such hope. I suppose BPS will now fold to limit its liability but pop up again in some other guise.

Member
Karen says:
9 June 2015

I was taken to court by BPS last Friday and I won. Today they have sent me a text asking for money and saying they will carry on contacting me until I pay!!!!

Profile photo of alfa
Member

Congratulations, I’m sure you told them to take a running jump !!! On second thoughts, why bother.

Member
Mike says:
12 June 2015

Congratulations to Karen on winning her case – its a quite complicated process and very easy for anyone to give up and pay this guy just to make it go away ! But her comment that Howard immediately sent her a txt asking for the money – isn’t that now a criminal offence to be referred back to the Court ? Perhaps Sharon could comment

Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member

Well, I think it is a bit of a foregone conclusion now, but just to keep this up to date, BritishPassportServices lost again in Court this morning.

So for court hearings to date – Consumers 7 – BPS 0

Profile photo of Nick S
Member
Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member
Profile photo of Nick S
Member
Profile photo of Nick S
Member

The Advertising Standards Authority have upheld the adjudication against ukpassportoffices.co.uk that the site was misleading after Richard Howard appealed https://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2015/7/UK-Services-and-Support-Ltd/SHP_ADJ_273276.aspx#.VZPcUSzbI5s

Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member

10 cases now won by defendants ( out of 10 heard in court )

If you get a claim from UKS&S – PLEASE DEFEND IT !

Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member

Another case discontinued ( in this case BPS pulled out because the defendant mentioned they had received an email stating the appointment couldn’t be booked without payment )

Member
J McDonnell says:
20 July 2015

I just won a case against British Passport Services today. They were trying to charge me £250 for their ridiculous underhanded admin services and an unpaid bill fee. I recieved no FREE passport appointment or any service but they were willing to go to court and believed I should still pay. I think the only way they get paid is from the people that pay up front when mistakenly using their site and those that pay for fear of the court action threats. The judge threw it out of court and said they provided no service so I didn’t have to pay. An example of one of their “services” they were trying to charge me for was the cancellation phone call I made.

BE WARNED

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

Member
J McDonnell says:
20 July 2015

My case took place in Belfast Northern Ireland

Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member

Congrats 🙂

Please defend if you get a court claim from this company.

Member
J McDonnell says:
21 July 2015

A mail I recieved today after winning my case against BRITISH PASSPRT SERVICES:

“Dear Mr McDonnell,

We are disappointed that the Judge did not see fit to have you pay for the services that you ordered and we provided.

Nether the less we will respect the wishes of the court any no longer pursue you for the money that you promised to pay us.

Would you be kind enough to return the passport cover that was included in the package that we provided you with?

Kind Regards”

I have received nothing, absolutely NOTHING except a bill. The cheek of asking for something to be returned. The mail I replied back I will not post 🙂

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

There is something deeply offensive about that contact from BPS. They obviously have no shame nor any respect for the Court and their vindictive nature shows through with their determination to add insult to injury. I have rarely seen such bare-faced arrogance in commercial transactions. Obviously they have had their wings clipped and now face losing their lucrative trade.

Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member

I think you are the first they have asked for the passport cover to be returned. I did hear of one person who received a cheap plastic very poorly printed passport cover, she just binned it. I’ve never seen one. I doubt they are worth as much as the postage cost.

Anyway just to update… there have now been 12 hearings of claims bought by the owners of the BritishPassportServices website in the small claims court. All 12 were won by consumers, 10 were awarded costs, 1 was awarded damages of £1500, and 1 forgot to ask for costs…. but none of those who have defended the claim and gone through to the court hearing have had to pay BPS a penny. ( actually your case in NI makes 13 cases won, the 12 are just off LB)

There are another 15 cases listed to be heard over the next month or so.

BPS brought around 800 claims against consumers since November.
Trading Standards are still investigating.
The website continues to operate.

We need the government to take action to regulate (or prevent) third parties charging fees for government services.

Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member

Just to up date – we’re now at 19 wins for consumers ( out of 19 cases heard )… another hearing this afternoon…. will let you know 🙂

Profile photo of Amethyst LB
Member

🙂 Clean sheet… 20 cases heard…. 20 cases won by the consumer.

Hopefully this gives anyone else with a court claim the confidence to defend.

I’ll leave it there now unless anything out of the ordinary happens 🙂

Member
Mike says:
17 August 2015

I won my case a couple of weeks back and was awarded costs . Am waiting for the confirmation Court order and intend to immediately pursue UK Services and support for the costs awarded . I would encourage anyone else in this position to ensure they claim the costs – its the least we can do. Huge thanks to Sharon for helping everyone through this !

Profile photo of JK
Member

I was completely fooled when I moved house and needed to change address on my driving licence. I now know not to pick the first ‘official’ looking website listed on google search pages. At that time I didn’t realise that you could change your address for free and didn’t need to pay, it cost me £30!! Not feeling like I am as uptodate and savvy on the computer as many people I feel I have to be a lot more careful now. I try to read up about all the different scams out there because they seem to change all the time. It is so important to make as many people as aware as possible so they don’t get caught out like I did. I did feel pretty stupid at the time.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Part of the psychology of these scams is to charge an amount that makes them a lot of money but is less than worthwhile for a legal action against them.

Member

esta-registrationcouk is a copycat site. it should not be allowed

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Member
Rick Graham says:
20 March 2016

I’m normally suspicious of everything on the net, so I was gobsmacked when I got caught out by a fake passport site.As soon as I realised, I got onto my card provider- Nationwide, and raised a case- I got all the money refunded within a month.
I do realise I was lucky- & I look at everything 3 times now!

Member
Clive Bravery says:
20 March 2016

I have been caught. I tried to renew my driving licence on line using what I thought was the official site. I filed in the form on line and was asked to pay 90 pence. I thought how typical of the government to charge a fee that probable cost more to collect than the 90 pence paid. I had a message on screen to say I would receive the form within 5 to 15 days. I checked my bank account on line to find that I had under transactions pending a charge of £49. I contacted my bank who told me that I would have to get the firm charging me the money to send a fax on company headed paper instructing a cancellation. I phoned the firm and spoke to a female with a very strong Indian accent who said that she was not authorised to send the fax, only her supervisor could do that. She told me that her supervisor was either not there or too busy to come to the phone and this was true of the supervisors manager. I told the female that I did not want to proceed and was cancelling any agreement I may have had with the firm. I phoned my bank and explained what had happened. They explained to me that it was not a fraud until after 15 days and the forms have not arrived. I got my debit card cancelled and have kept an eye on my account. The £49 has gone from my account today. I rechecked the web site and it would appear that I have signed up to some form of document vault and every 2 months they will charge me £49. It makes me feel foolish to think I could be so easily conned

Member
Simon Katzenellenbogen says:
30 March 2016

I had used the official DVLA website, but somewhat foolishly I got myself duped by a copycat website which fooled me, though fortunately not for long. I got onto my credit card provider who told me not to contact the website and to wait for about a month when they could refuse payment because of (I think it was something like) not completion of service. I must say that this advice was not immediately forthcoming, but came only after I asked if there was anything at all I could do to get my initial payment back.

Member
Rosana says:
17 June 2016

I got sent this email today by ‘H&M Revenue Customs’ Claiming I was eligible for a tax return of £356.662 . I really nearly fell for it but this seems completely fake please help me to determine if it is or isn’t!
Really crushed my dreams this morning !
Thank you
Rosana

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

It is 100% fake, Rosana. The clue is in the name of the sender: the correct title for the tax and duty collectors is Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, or HMRC. The position of the ampersand [“&”] in the phishing e-mail is the giveaway. H&M is a fashion retailer [i.e. “costumes” not “customs”].

A further point is that HMRC do not send such notifications by e-mail, ever.

Member
Alex says:
16 August 2016

Just got an SMS purporting to be from HMRC asking me to click a link to claim a tax refund. The link asks for all manner of personal information and is not on the gov.uk domain. I didn’t enter anything as I spotted the scam.

Member
Frederick Bird says:
13 December 2016

Just been conned by a copy cat ESTA site, it did look like the official US embassy site, it’s take £61.00 foe a £14.00 esta and I have still not received the visa.