/ 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
Jamie says:
20 March 2015

Believe me I didn’t have the money either, but a CCJ? I’m just trying to give you the best advice because these people have covered their a**e, it depends how you live too wether a CCJ would affect you but 6 years is a long time for 150 pound….

OR you could defend against the claim and not have a CCJ in the first place.

Was the service actually provided ? (ie. was an appointment booked in your name)
Did you use the website/telephone ‘advice’ line in the belief it was the real HM Passport Office ?
Did you telephone them and get told they were the passport office ?
Have you received numerous phone calls / text messages / letters and emails ?
Were you told the service couldn’t be provided until after payment ?
Did you receive the contract in a durable form ?
Were you given the information on how to cancel ?
Did you actually finish completing the form or figure out something wasn’t right half way through and left the site ?
Did you cancel immediately you completed the form ?

I sadly agree, if you have already ignored the court papers and have a default judgment then it might be more straightforward to pay the £200 than to pay £155 to apply for a setaside and then attend a hearing to decide if you can have the judgment set-aside, and most people will, and are just paying the man – well over 150 have paid him after receiving a court claim.

Remember NOT ONE CASE has been heard or ruled on in court, no judge has looked at the claims he is issuing and decided they are valid or invalid.

We have two cases discontinued so far, we’re hoping to have a hearing at the end of April to try and bring some certainty.

If you get a claim, ACKNOWLEDGE within 14 days, DEFEND within 28, and it will be a couple months before it comes to a hearing, by then there should be a more defined opinion, and also remember you can pay a CCJ within 28 days to have it not appear on the register or your credit file. Has to be better than letting him walk away with a default judgment after 14 days and paying him to avoid the registry entry.

Also, Kevin, once there is a judgment then I’m afraid you do not have the option of reclaiming the payment through section 75 or chargeback.

Marie says:
21 March 2015

I am now taking my claim to have The County Court and have requested that this is held in my home town. I would rather fight this as far as I can than being ripped off.

Karen says:
22 March 2015

I have done the same, just waiting for the court date now – bring it on – I will defend this to the end.

tedbury says:
20 March 2015

I have just paid £117.60 to BPS. I do feel a fool after realising. I have emailed them asking for a refund with out any success, I will fight to get a refund.
I do agree we need to stand up to companies like this and fight them any way we can

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

Sharon says:
23 March 2015

I can see that there are lots of phony websites but urgently need some help with an replacement passport application – does anyone know of any reputable companies?

This is from the official GOV.UK website for Her Majesty’s Passport Office :

“You can renew or replace your passport at any time. It costs £72.50, or £82.25 through the Post Office’s Passport Check and Send service. Time left on an existing passport is added to your new one, up to a maximum of 9 months. . . . It should take 3 weeks to get the passport – use a different service* if you need the passport urgently. It can take longer if more information is needed or your application hasn’t been filled out correctly.”
[Go to GOV.UK > Passports, travel and living abroad > Passports]

*If you need the replacement urgently [e.g. within a month] you will have to book an appointment at a Passport Customer Service Centre if you’re in the UK. After the appointment, you can get your passport the same day or within a week. ALL the information you need is available on that GOV.UK website by following the links – there is absolutely no need to use an unofficial service agent, even for an urgent application.

If you have an issue with BritishPassportServices and they hadn’t booked an appointment for you at the HMPO then it is advisable to contact the HM Passport Office ( 0300 222 0000 ) as soon as possible (within 6 months of requesting an appointment) and ask them to send you an email or letter stating that no appointment was made in your name.

If it does come to court action then this evidence that the service was not provided will help ditch the court claim at an early stage, or even at the pre-action stage.

Taylor Blake says:
6 April 2015

I have used BPS like many others. I have recieved a judgement from county court business centre. I am now unsure of where to go from here, as I did respond to the confirmation of the appointment on the same day saying I no longer wanted the appointment and that I wanted to cancel. After hearing nothing back from them I considered the appointment cancelled. Not only that but according to the invoice they have sent me, I’ve been asked to pay for things that I didn’t actually recieve. I’m a student, and at 22 only work part time and don’t have enough money to pay the £155 fee to argue the case with the court. Can anyone help me with some advice as to what to do now? I’ve posted on the legal beagles forum and am awaiting a response. Would appriciate anything anyone can suggest 🙁

Molly says:
20 April 2015

Just paid. I had a ccj made against me and court went in their favour. Yes I could have fought but I really just wanted it out of my life. Gut wrenching it was but i can now move on with my life, Google has a lot to answer for for even letting these websites exist. I feel for those who really can’t afford to pay them off. There are some really awful people out their making money off others misfortune, I havd definteley learnt my lesson and will research everything I do on the Internet! Good luck everyone! Xx

Ian says:
24 April 2015

Court sided with BPS, just had to pay em 🙁

@ Ian

When you say the court sided with BPS, was this a result of a hearing or a default judgment?

There was a hearing in Wales yesterday where although BPS failed to attend, the case was heard and the defendant won and was awarded costs.

It was me !!!!

I fought them , and I won !!!!
Check legal beagles, happened yesterday

Congratulations NV.

I hope this encourages others to fight them and not just pay up as others have apparently done.

Molly says:
29 April 2015

Congratulations! I wish I had the balls to have fought them like you did. Well done. 🙂 x

Another BPS ‘customer’ won in court today and was awarded £109 in costs.

So the makes the score so far 2 nil to the victims.

Alex Yates says:
7 May 2015

I went to court today against British Passport Services and won. I’ll write up the details on my blog in the next few days. In the meantime, more info is available on legal beagles.

Last week two other cases went to court, both won by someone like me. Richard Howard admitted to me, face to face, in court on transcript that he has never had a successful full judgement in court. Only default judgements (where defendants ignore court papers) and out of court settlements

Alex Yates says:
8 May 2015

Hi everyone,

I hope you enjoy reading this. An account of my day in court with Richard Howard.

All the best,

Alex

Alex Yates says:
8 May 2015

PS. Thanks David Payne. Without this page I would never have made it.

Thanks for sharing your story Alex and congratulations on your win. I’m afraid David Paine no longer works at Which? but you can find him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DavidAPaine 🙂

Greyladart says:
12 May 2015

I cant believe Judge Murray Smith sided with BPS at a Leicester County Court hearing (Case: B8QZ2664).

I should be allowed to click buttons, fill in forms and enter my credit card details on random websites without regard for the product or service that I’m purchasing. I should not be forced to change my online behavior as the government should have the power to release its citizens from the commitments they make to companies to pay for services that we request and they provide. I don’t want to pay and so they should be able to stop any company from pursuing us for money that we promised them.

I know that the July 2014 Advertising Standards Authority research into copycat websites showed that 83% of consumers before reading any content of a website could tell the difference between an official passport website and a commercial site on look alone and that the majority of consumers were in favour of copycat websites with them seeing no need to regulate or ban them but still, there should be a regulator who has the power to fine these companies thousands of pounds and give that money to people like me.

A campaign to ban or heavily regulate copycat websites that if successful will mean that we consumers will no longer have to take responsibility for our actions is gaining momentum. The Change.org campaign launched 4 months ago and backed by Legal Beagles has already attracted a record 160 signatures. This beats two 2014 campaigns hosted on Direct.gov.uk, the largest attracting 77 signatures from the 50 million or so adults in the UK.

Oh no sorry, since last weeks Mail on Sunday article it has received one more signature and so the campaign stands at 161 signatures.

To get the matter debated in parliament we only need 100,000 signatures and so please tell your friends, family and 90,000 other people that you know to sign this petition so that we can make it easier for consumers to use the services of a third party provider but without the stigma of having to pay them.

Once we need 99,839 more signatures before we can ask for a change in the law that not only allows us to cancel contracts and escape financial commitments when ever we want but could also provide us with compensation. You should sign it now.

Very amusing. Case B8QZ2664 was actually won by the Claimant by Default because a Defence was not entered to the court in time. The Judge did not hear or decide upon the issues at all.

For evidence of this please see this post on LegalBeagles http://www.legalbeagles.info/forums/showthread.php?58752-UK-Services-amp-Support-Ltd-BRITISHPassportServices-Copycat-Website-issues-DISCUSSION&p=543427#post543427

(hope that is okay @ Which? – I believe it is important to evidence what I have said)

Mike says:
13 May 2015

Thanks to Sharon for clarifying the truthful situation re the post by ” Greyladart “. I wonder how many other aliases Richard Howard has on this blog . Still trying to trick us into believing we have to pay him .
Shouldn’t the police be aware of this type of activity ?

@Greyladart

”I cant believe Judge Murray Smith sided with BPS at a Leicester County Court”

You’re in good company as nobody else believes it either. The same goes for the existence of ‘Amanda Kirkman’, ‘Sam Harris’, ‘Websites Standards Agency’ etc etc.

Dagny Taggart says:
16 May 2015

Based on publicly available information about the: B8QZ2664 case there was a Set Aside Order hearing for the Defendant at Leicester County Court to request the Default Judgement was Set Aside. The Defendant paid £155 for the hearing but failed to show up.

It would seem that he/she requested the BPS service promised to pay within 72hrs did not follow through, ignored BPS’ 7 day payment reminder letter, their 14 day pre-action conduct letter, failed to follow court instructions to acknowledge the claim, failed to file a defense so received a Default Judgement, then paid £155 for a Set Aside Order hearing to appeal the order then failed to attend the court hearing where Judge Murray Smith at Leicester County Court upheld the BPS claim.

Is the Defendant still claiming that he has been victimized and there was nothing he could have done?

I won’t go into minute detail about this case but there was no service provided by BPS originally, there was a great deal of correspondence from the Defendant to the Claimant about the issue which was completely ignored. The claim was acknowledged, the Defence sent to the Claimant on time, but mistakenly didn’t send it to the Court. Hence the Default Judgment, which was requested by the Claimant, despite his having had the Defence.

The Default Judgment was applied to set aside, but unfortunately they did not realise they needed to attend court. Neither, it appears, did the Claimant.

The court process can be intimidating and confusing for consumers who are not used to dealing with it, and mistakes happen. This does not excuse the behaviour of UKS&S whatsoever. It certainly is not a judgment in support of their business or it’s practices by any stretch of the imagination.

big john says:
20 May 2015

[Hi John, thanks for sharing your experience with the Which? Conversation community. However, we’ve had to remove it because the majority of the content breaks our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]