/ 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
Guest
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.

Guest
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

Guest

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.

Guest
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.

Guest
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.

Guest
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.

Guest
Guest
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

https://www.passports-office.co.uk/index.asp

Guest

Stephen , in reality its not a fake website , I dont want the public confused its one of 1000,s on the web that use official wording linked into to an additional header , its perfectly legal , done all the time by many businesses . It is put there to draw people away from the official websites , Google does this and many other search engines who get paid by third parties, usually on a customer clicking onto it. I will NOT post a REAL fake website on Which as somebody might think its a genuine one , by the way its got very little trackers, cant be popular .