West Sussex County Council Trading Standards Officers are warning residents to avoid websites that make unnecessary charges for the renewal of official documents such as driving licences.
Official looking websites that offer new passports, the booking of driving tests and renewing car tax are just some of the so called ‘copycat’ websites that have sprung up and people using them risk ending up out-of-pocket.
By imitating official government sites, these copycat sites are designed to trick people into parting with their cash unnecessarily by charging users for services that are provided cheaper or free-of-charge through official government websites.
More than 100 complaints and enquiries about these sites have been received by West Sussex Trading Standards in 2014. The most commonly reported were tax return, driving licence, passport and driving test sites.
A Crawley resident who was the victim of a such a website is typical of those who have complained to Trading Standards
“I renewed my car Tax disc online via a site which I believed was an official government site.
“I was charged £40 plus the cost of the tax disc.
“At no time in the online process was the £40 charge shown, although it is mentioned on the first page.
“There was no opportunity to review and cancel the amount being deducted from my debit card, while there was no statement of the amount taken in the confirmation email. “
The National Trading Standards E Crime Team has been undertaking enforcement work to tackle the rogue sites. In recent weeks, four search warrants have been executed on properties in England, which could see the operation of at least 25 copycat websites disrupted and five people have been arrested.
West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for residents services Lionel Barnard said: “It is very easy to end up on one of these third-party websites.
“While the internet has ensured it is simpler to obtain official documents such as driving licences or tax discs people should be very wary of the rogue websites out there trying to exploit them.
“If you come across copycat websites, report them to Trading Standards.”
Top tips to avoid being duped include:
- Use GOV.UK. It is the easiest and most secure place to find government services and information online
- Instead of searching for the services you need via a search engine, go to GOV.UK and use the search function there.
- If you do use a search engine, look out for the differences between natural search results and paid-for search results.
Anyone who thinks they have been duped by one of these sites can report them to Trading Standards and obtain advice by contacting Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06. You can also report issues of concern direct to Trading Standards at www.westsussex.gov.uk/tsreport