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OFT to investigate deceptive online selling

OFT to investigate deceptive online selling

Category: Money

Updated: 15/07/2011
First Published: 15/07/2011

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 It is now over 6 months old so the content may be out of date.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is to investigate firms that charge people for services that are directly available from the Government at no cost or a lower cost.

The probe will look into websites that charge consumers to apply for services that are free such as European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) as well as websites that impose higher charges for services that do carry a cost such as booking a driving theory test.

Presenting a commercial website as if it is an official Government service is deemed to be an unfair commercial service, and the OFT has powers to shut such operations down.

Such deception would raise particular concern if consumers are thus misled into paying fees for services that are available free of charge from the official Government website, or paying significantly more than what they would have to pay when using the official website.

"It is important that companies are clear about the service they are offering, and do not trick people into paying for something that they can get for free or much cheaper on Government websites," said Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the OFT's Goods and Consumer Group.

"We will be considering whether any of the sites under investigation are misleading consumers.

"With summer holidays approaching, many people will be making applications for EHICs in particular, so we encourage travellers to take time to check that they are using an official Government website."

Applications for EHICs can be made free of charge from the NHS website, while driving theory tests can be booked on the Directgov website.

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