/ Money, Technology, Travel & Leisure

Have you been tricked by a copycat website?


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?


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.

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

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.

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.

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.

John Wilkinson says:
7 March 2018

I was caught out by the copycat passport website application, I believed I was applying for a passport and the fees were exactly the same as the cost of the passport but it never arrived, I then had to get an emergency passport as I had booked a holiday. Now that these scumbags have been caught and punished, what happens to us that lost money. Its not like it was just a couple of pounds, hard to put this down just to experience.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Stephen Cole says:
13 July 2018

Be warned this is a fake website that looks very official, i was fooled and have lost my money. Worrying thing is they come out on top of a google search how they cannot be closed down is unreal. They call themselves Passports office .co.uk


This comment was removed at the request of the user

This is an old comment but I’ve only just noticed it.

Just to be clear, the linked website is not a fake but it certainly is not an official UK Passport Office website. As Duncan has said, this is a legal operation but there is a panel that explains that “We are an independent provider, similar services available at gov.uk, our prices include standard cost of £75.50/£49.00 payable to HM Passport Office & a £15-£29 additional checking fee.” So for checking and forwarding a passport application this company charges an extra £15 – £29 on top of the government’s standard charge.

It is quite easy to make a passport application or renewal application without using an intermediary. The Post Office charges £16 for its Check & Send service.

My wife has received the following sms message. It looks decidedly dodgy as there was only a link, no other content. Is this a scam?

[Moderator: we’ve removed this link as it points to information which, while not directly personal, could be used to personally identify someone. The link pointed to a PDF document hosted on a local health trust website]

Hey Colin,

You’re entirely right to question this, as it is unusual to receive an SMS that points to a PDF link without other context in the message. In this instance it seems legit, so I’ll follow this up with you by email.

jon says:
2 June 2021

Just got caught by drivingonlinesupport.co.uk trying to renew my licence while distracted. Credit card company says I can dispute charge after it appears on my statement but not while it is still pending. I replied to their email telling them I was misled to cancel it and that I will dispute the charge. What else do I need to tod – of course they have all my details now 🙁

Jon – Did you mean drivinglicencesupport.co.uk?

You might be lucky and get some of your money back from the company and then you could reclaim the balance from your card issuer if they are satisfied that you were intentionally misled. I noticed that there is the following statement on the Home page of the drivinglicencesupport website: Driving Licence Support is not affiliated with the DVLA in any way. Driving Licence Support is a third party service offering assistance with DVLA applications.

Jon – For driving licence renewals and many official services, head to gov.uk which will provide safe links.

Best of luck with getting a refund. I am not aware that copycat sites are misusing contact details but it might be worth trawling through the pages of this Conversation

I set about renewing my passport through the government website and, generally, a relatively easy process. Apart from the photograph! I wanted to avoid buying a photo so took it on my phone and ipad – trying to defeat the photo-ometer which kept coming up with “poor”, no matter what I did – eyes looked half closed so tried the mad staring look, without success. Colour wrong so changed into a white shirt, even bent over the camera to get the white ceiling as the background. Still rated “poor”.

Then, after about 12 attempts, one got into the middle of the “fair” category, for no apparent reason.So “stick” and off it went. Since then I’ve heard of others who have had the same experience. Lets hope humans think it is OK. Mind you, it won’t be used for any foreign travel while there are Covid problems, unless an emergency crops up. But it is a useful document to have.

Having looked at the requirements for passport photos, shadows might be the problem. In the days before you could take your own photo I took photos of friends and printed them, and they were accepted. There was a myth that only DIY photos were not acceptable.

AMK Wardroper says:
6 October 2021

Likewise somewhat foolishly got myself duped by a copycat website for Driving Licence renewal (drivingonlinesupport.co.uk). I got onto my debit card provider who told me not to contact the website and to wait for about two weeks when they could take action because of non completion of service. Also changed my bank card to be on the ‘safe’ side. Unfortunately I have provided them with a lot of personal information. Why does Google or other search engines not remove yhese clearly scam sites.

. . . because Google etc get income from showing those websites at the top of the list before the official GOV.UK listing. Some indicator such as “AD” alongside the website name is used to denote the difference.