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Beware of copycat sites

Beware of copycat sites

Category: Money

Updated: 05/12/2013
First Published: 04/12/2013

This article was correct at the time of publication. It is now over 6 months old so the content may be out of date.

Consumers are being urged to be on the lookout for copycat websites that offer a usually free service in exchange for an expensive administrative fee, with Government-related sites being a particularly popular target for these "providers".

These sites will typically offer form-filling or checking services and will pose as an official body, but will end up charging duped consumers a hefty – and usually unnecessary – fee for the privilege. A lot of consumers are being caught out after thinking these sites are legitimate and are paying money simply for filling in a form, with services including:

  • Passport checking,
  • Driving licence renewals,
  • Foreign visa applications,
  • even birth, marriage and death certificates.

Unfortunately it can sometimes be difficult to spot these scam sites, particularly for those in a rush. Type a quick search into Google and you'll be presented with a large number of these copycat sites – many with similar visual features, fonts, layouts and written claims as the official bodies, and providers will often work hard to ensure these sites actually feature higher in search results.

The practice understandably leaves a lot of consumers less than happy and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is getting an increasing number of complaints about such sites, but since they're providing a service and technically aren't doing anything illegal – it isn't against the law for companies to offer a service similar to that provided by an official body, even if they're charging a higher fee – the ASA's hands are often tied.

However, some claims can still be taken forwards. Those sites that use particularly underhanded tactics, don't make it clear enough that they're independent of official bodies and deliberately mislead consumers into parting with their cash can be targeted, with the ASA condemning such practices.

Unfortunately those that have already been caught out will invariably never get their money back, so the advice for consumers is to be on their guard. These sites can in some cases charge hundreds of pounds for services that should be free, so anyone needing to make applications should double-check they're on the official page and should never part with any cash if they're suspicious of the website's intentions.

What Next?

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Disclaimer: Information is correct as of the date of publication (shown at the top of this article). Any products featured may be withdrawn by their provider or changed at any time.

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