What are copycat websites?
Copycat websites are those which offer services from Government Departments or Local Government but are not the official site and charge an additional fee over the genuine one for their ‘assistance’.
What is the problem with copycat sites?
Copycat sites will charge a fee for services that would have been cheaper or even free via 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 body.
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 ongoing with this sector to ensure that people are not misled and some sites have been shut down.
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 imply that they’re an official service or that they’re affiliated 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 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 ensure 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 helpline 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 is some of the most useful official websites and current charges:
- Visit GOV.UK for information about passports
- Official Charges:
- Adult Passport (standard 34 page passport) £75.50 online (£85.00 if using paper form from the Post Office)
- Adult Passport (jumbo 50 page passport) £85.50 online (£95.00 if using paper form from the Post Office)
- Child Passport (under 16) £49.00 online (£58.50 if using paper form from the Post Office)
- Free if born on or before 02/09/1929
Car Tax or to SORN a vehicle
Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)
Power of Attorney
Purchasing a rod fishing licence
UK toll roads