How to spot a copycat website

Copycat websites charge a fee to process or renew official documents, which you can do free yourself. Read our guide to make sure you aren’t caught out.

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Which? scams investigation

A Which? investigation into scams in September 2013 revealed that half of those who come into contact with copycat websites are fooled by them.

Recently, Which? has discovered two such websites that we think could trick you into paying more than you need to for your passport – Passportdirect.co.uk and Passport.gb.com – by using the word ‘official’ in their Google ads.

We don’t believe the websites make it clear enough that they’re not the official HM Passport Office (HMPO) website.

Passport applications

You can renew your passport through the official HMPO site, or the Post Office offers application forms.

Gov.uk has also introduced an online service allowing you to pay for your passport application online. 

Be careful of using alternative websites that are not officially affiliated.

Top tips

Read the homepage of the website. It may even state that it’s not affiliated with the official body

Don’t be fooled by a .org web address, as this doesn’t guarantee that it’s the official site

Check to see if the web address in your brower bar begins with ‘https’, as this acts as an encryption to protect personal details

Copycat tax return sites

HMRC tax returns and self-assessment forms also often appear on copycat websites.

Remember, with HMRC self-assessment tax returns, you need to register either on or offline at a tax office before you can pay.

Ways to spot a copycat sites

There are a number of ways that can help you spot a copycat website. Follow our top tips to avoid falling victim:

  • Is it a paid search engine ad? Look out for paid-for search engine results. These are the boxed adverts displayed at the top of search engine result pages. Quite often, the official site is the first or second non-paid-for link that appears below the ads.
  • Read the homepage Take a couple of minutes to double-check the site; don’t dive straight into filling out an application form. Visit the homepage and read the text there. It may even say that the site is not officially affiliated with the official body.
  • Check the web address Don’t be fooled by a .org web address, as this is no guarantee that it is a body’s official website. Any website claiming to be an official government website should have a .gov.uk address.
  • Https vs http Although it’s not always a guarantee, you can check for ‘https://’ at the beginning of the website address. On pages where you are entering personal information, this indicates that there is encryption in place to protect your personal details; websites just with http:// don’t encrypt your details.

The government has set up a guide to reporting a misleading website to search engines

Crackdown on copycat websites

The Government Digital Service has been working with Google, the largest search engine in the UK, to identify advertisements that mislead consumers and therefore breach Google’s policies. 

As a result, Google took down a series of sponsored adverts from companies running copycat websites. 

Google will continue to remove misleading adverts and close the accounts of repeat offenders. 

Use the government website to report misleading websites

Stay up to date on scams 

The National Trading Standards Board is now issuing advice for consumers to beat help them trump cyber con-artists.

Watch this video to find out more…

Report to trading standards 

The National Trading Standards eCrime Team is investigating these so-called copycat websites. 

The team has devised a questionnaire to gather information about websites that are duping people into spending money on services that are either free or much cheaper if people arrange them themselves. 

If you’ve been caught out by one of these websites, you can complete the trading standards questionnaire to share your experience.  

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