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Crackdown on copycat websites intensifies

Fraudsters arrested as government steps up action
Online privacy

Several fraudsters have been arrested in a bid to take down websites that masquerade as legitimate government services.

Copycat websites are designed to trick you into parting with your cash unnecessarily by charging for services that are provided cheaper or free-of-charge through official government channels.

Last week five fraudsters were arrested in England which could see the end to at least 25 copycat websites, according to the National Trading Standards Board.

Make sure you’re not caught out – read our guide to how to spot a copycat website.

Responding to consumer complaints

More than 5,000 complaints were made to Citizens Advice last year and 700 were made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). 

The most commonly reported complaints related to tax returns, driving licences, European Health Insurance Cards and passports.

Earlier this year, Which? research highlighted how consumers have been left out of pocket by rogue websites.

We looked at 10 websites providing services for passport applications, European Health Insurance Cards and tax return services and found them to be misleading or confusing, providing poor value for money and leaving some consumers up to £1,000 out of pocket.

New guidance on copycat websites

Following our research, senior ministers met with Google to draw up a framework to enable search engines to identify and take action against websites that add little or no value to existing online government services.

Alongside the recent arrests, the National Trading Standards Board is now issuing advice for consumers to beat the cyber con-artists, including this video guide:


Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: ‘For too long copycat websites have got away with misleading consumers into paying potentially hundreds of pounds for services that should be free.

‘We’re glad that some action is being taken and we hope to see more enforcement taken against these sites from now on. Consumers who have been duped by these sites should also get a full refund of the money they were misled into paying.’

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