The City Council's Trading Standards service is continuing to advise consumers and businesses in Newcastle of the problems associated with so called 'Copycat' websites.
View the copycat websites campaign poster (pdf, 129 kb)
Ordering new passports, booking driving tests and renewing car tax discs are just some of the ways that people are unwittingly being left out of pocket by shrewd fraudsters who operate 'copycat' websites. By imitating official government services online, copycat websites are designed to trick consumers and businesses into parting with their cash unnecessarily by charging for services that are provided cheaper or free-of-charge through official government channels.
Over 5,000 complaints were made to Citizens Advice in 2014 and 700 were made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The most commonly relate to tax returns, driving licences, European Health Insurance Cards and passports. Four search warrants were executed as a result of the subsequent investigation on properties in England, which saw the operation of at least 25 copycat websites disrupted. For more information about the work of the National Trading Standards Board, visit our NTSB webpage.
Lord Toby Harris chair of the NTSB said: "Our e crime team is clamping down on the cyber fraudsters and we are making it as difficult as possible for these online hoaxers to operate. We have been working with search engines such as Google and Bing to remove adverts from online search results and we continue to gather intelligence across the country to help tackle this issue.
We urge you to avoid unofficial websites which could leave you out-of-pocket or at risk of identity theft. Only use the Gov.UK website to find government services. If you come across copycat websites, report them to Citizens Advice".
The misleading websites often use URL's that include fragments such as 'govuk', 'directgov' or relevant organisation names to make them appear as official providers of certain services. similar design features are also incorporated to replicate the 'look and feel' of official website services. To report a misleading or copycat website, you can call the Citizens Advice Consumer service on 03454 040 506. For more information about the service, visit our Consumer Advice webpage.
Jo Swinson MP. the then Minister for Consumer Affairs, said: "It's great that it's becoming easier and more common to use the internet to order official documents such as passports and tax discs, but people should be aware of rogue websites that are out there trying to exploit them and take their hard earned cash and even put them at risk of identity theft.
The enforcement action which the National Trading Standards eCrime team has taken demonstrates the Government's commitment to tackling these scammers. We will not let them get away with misleading consumers.
The video launched today will mean that people are less likely to fall foul of clever fraudsters and be better equipped to access the official government sites. The key thing to remember is that the best place to find government information is Gov.UK".
The consumer advice as published on this page is available through the National Trading Standards E-crime website.
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. Then you'll know you're on the official site.
If you do use a search engine, look out for the differences between natural search results and paid-for search results.
For more information around the work of the Trading Standards service view our most recent newsletters: High Standard (Spring/Summer 2014) (pdf 3.47 mb), High Standard (Autumn/Winter 2014) (pdf 1.7 mb), High Standard (Spring/Summer 2015) (pdf 2.2 mb), High Standard (Autumn/Winter 2015) (pdf 1.4 mb), High Standard (Spring/Summer 2016) (pdf 2.3 mb), High Standard (Autumn/Winter 2016) (pdf 1.4 mb), High Standard (Spring/Summer 2017) (pdf 1.5 mb), High Standard (Winter 2017) (pdf 802 kb) and High Standard (Summer 2018) (pdf 2.2 mb).
To see an article highlighting the conviction of six individuals involved with the promotion of copycat websites go to the Guardian of the 6 March 2018.
For further information, please contact the Trading Standards Service, Directorate of Operations and Regulatory Services, City of Newcastle upon Tyne, Civic Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8QH.
Phone: 0191 2116121