How to spot a copycat website

Copycat websites charge a fee to process or renew official documents, which you can do yourself for free. Don't get caught out - read our guide.
spread the word
email & print

1 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 which 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.

2 Passport applications

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

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

Be careful of using alternative websites that may not be 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 it's the official site

Check to see if the web address begins with 'https', as this acts as an encryption to protect personal details

3 Tax return copycat 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.

If you've been tricked by a copycat website, we want to hear from you. Tell us about it on our blog at Which? Conversation

4 Ways to spot a copycat sites

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

  • 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 these
  • Read the homepage  Take a couple of minutes to double-check the site - don’t dive into filling out an application form. Visit the homepage and read the text there. It may even declare the site is not officially affiliated with the official body
  • Check the web address  Don’t be fooled by a .org web address - this is no guarantee of an official website. Any website that is 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, 'https' acts as an encryption to protect your personal details whereas websites with http don't encrypt your details.

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

5 Crackdown on copycat websites

The Government Digital Service has been working with Google, the largest search engine in the UK, to identify advertisements which 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

6 Stay up-to-date on scams 

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

Watch this video to find out more...

7 Report to Trading Standards 

The National Trading Standards eCrime Team is investigating these so-called copy cat 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 arranged these services themselves. 

If you've been affected by one of these websites, you can complete the Trading Standards questionnaire to share your experience.  

Safeguard us from scams
0

Join our campaign
& help us reach 200,000 signatures

Fraud is now at record levels, with more than five million scams costing Brits a mind-boggling £9bn each year. We’re urging the government to take the lead and ensure companies safeguard us all from scams.

Find out more about Online scams on Which? Campaigns

Thank you for signing our campaign

Help us spread the word by sharing our campaign

Please tell us what you think of the Which? Consumer Rights website.

Your feedback is vital in helping us improve this site. All data will be treated confidentially. This survey will take approximately 5 minutes to complete.

Please take our survey so we can improve our website for you and others like you.