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Consumer advice and protection

Copycat websites

Internet shopping.

We have had lots of questions about copycat websites which charge extra for items like passport renewals, driving licences, European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC), driving test appointments, car tax and foreign travel visas.

People contact us when they find out they have paid more than they would have on the official website and they feel they have been conned or misled.

In July 2014 the National Trading Standards eCrime executed four search warrants at properties in England and arrested five people connected to over 25 websites.

What are copycat websites?

If you search online for a service like applying for a passport or booking a driving theory test, along with the sites for the official providers of these services, such as the Home Office or the Driving Standards Agency, there are a number of other online companies which will offer to 'help' you with services such as these.

These other copycat sites often have a similar look and wording to the official sites but will add an extra charge on top of the usual price for their help.

What is the problem with copycat sites?

Copycat sites will charge a fee for services that would have been cheaper or even free on the official site.

Examples we have seen include copycat sites charging £15 to apply for an EHIC card which can be done free of charge through the official NHS website and £85 for the ESTA to enter the USA which should only cost $14.

Are copycat sites illegal?

The majority of these companies are legitimate and it's not against the law for a company to offer a service similar to an official organisation.

How do people end up using the 'copycat site' instead of the official site?

People often get confused because the copycat sites can be unclear whether they're an official service or not. Work is underway to make sure that people are not misled.

What can be done about copycat sites?

It's not acceptable for companies to mislead people into paying for products or services. Copycat sites should not give the impression that they're an official service or that they're linked with one if that's not the case, and that could be through the claims made on their website, the company name, website address, the use of specific words such as 'official / Gov', or the overall appearance of the site.

Costs should be clear, transparent and upfront - so for example if they are charging a compulsory handling fee they should make that clear.

How can I avoid copycat sites?

When applying online for these types of items remember: 

  • All official sites can be reached through www.gov.uk. Use this link rather than using an online search engine .
  • Make sure you know who you are dealing with - take time to read the information on the website to make sure that you're using the official service.  
  • If you do use a search engine don't just pick the first result on the page.

What can I do if I think I've been caught out by a copycat site?

If you think you have used a copycat site and feel you were misled you can get further advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service by using their online reporting form or by calling 03454 04 05 06.

What are the official sites for these types of services online?

Here are some of the most useful official websites and current charges: 

  • For Passports - www.gov.uk/browse/abroad/passports Official Charges: Adult Passport £72.50 (£81.25 if using Post Office Check & Send) Child Passport £46.00 (£54.75 if using Post Office Check & Send) Free if born before 02/09/1929 
  • For Driving Licences - www.gov.uk/browse/driving/driving-licences Official Charges: Online Provisional Licence application £50, renew a licence £20 (free for those 70 and over), replacement licence £20, make changes to details on a licence (e.g. address) Free 
  • For Car Tax or to SORN a vehicle - www.gov.uk/tax-disc Official Charges: Vary by vehicle you can check the correct rate at www.gov.uk/calculate-vehicle-tax-rates
  • For European Health Insurance Card - www.ehic.org.uk Official Charge - Online EHIC applications are Free 
  • For Tax Returns - www.hmrc.gov.uk For those required to complete a self-assessment tax return filing online is free. 
  • Foreign travel advice (including Visas and ESTA for travel to the USA including links to official websites and charges) - www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Trading standards - consumers

(via Citizen's Advice consumer helpline)

Email: tradingstandards@coventry.gov.uk

Tel: 03454 040506

Visit: http://www.coventry.gov.uk/tradingstandardsteam

Telephone lines open Monday to Friday
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