West Sussex County Council Trading Standards Officers warn 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.
The National Trading Standards E Crime Team has undertaken 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 toGOV.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.