A lot of action has been taken against copycat websites that mimic official government services. But they’re not giving up that easy. Here’s Mike Andrews of National Trading Standards on the latest copycat tricks.
The problem of copycat websites has been in sharp focus over the last month thanks to the work done by Which?, the Government Digital Service and National Trading Standards.
It’s certainly the case that more of us are aware of the issue than before, as well as knowing what to do to avoid being caught out. However, this has led some copycat websites to change the ways they lure you into the scam.
Copycat website tricks
Although copycat operators are still using search engines to entice people looking for government services online, here at the National Trading Standards eCrime Team we’re monitoring the techniques being used. Lately we’ve seen a re-emergence of two techniques in particular:
• Those that lure people into buying cheap extras, such as a newsletter when you’re applying for a driving licence. However, this quickly turns into a monthly debit or credit card payment at a higher price, which you didn’t originally agree to. What do you get for their money? A low quality newsletter.
• Those that advertise official government service helplines, but then charge premium rates for calling those helplines which if called directly would either be free or low cost.
The first variant hopes to get your direct debit authorisation, which is then used to regularly tap your account for larger sums with not much in return for your payment.
Premium rate numbers
Here at the National Trading Standards eCrime Team we managed to trigger the second variant with a simple search for a fishing licence – which served up an ad at the top of the search engine results page offering 24/7 phone support. The ad actually links to a landing page with a number which essentially puts you through to the Environment Agency’s own phone number, but charges you a premium rate for doing so.
It’s not surprising that copycat operators use this technique, given the popularity of fishing – one of the most popular hobbies in the UK. Copycat fishing rod licence applications were clearly very lucrative to them in the past, when they could buy ads on search engines without them coming under scrutiny in the way they do now.
You can avoid this problem by searching for official government service helplines on WWW.GOV.UK. However, you need to be careful when searching for utility service helpline numbers such as gas, electricity, phone, internet etc., as you can only do this using a search engine, which might still land you on a site that advertises the premium rate phone numbers.
Avoid copycat websites
We will continue to take action against copycat websites, but if you are looking for government services online the best way to avoid any of these scams is to steer clear of using popular search engines to find them. Go straight to WWW.GOV.UK and search there instead. That way you can be sure to find what you are looking for, without being scammed.
If you want to prevent any of your friends or relatives from falling victim to any copycats please share this post and the below video:
Have you been fooled by a copycat website, or spotted one you want others to look out for? Tell us all about it.
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Mike Andrews, National eCrime Co-ordinator at the National Trading Standards eCrime Team. All opinions expressed here are his own, not necessarily those of Which?.