/ 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
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

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

Member

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

Member
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!!!!

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