National Trading Standards has confirmed that five individuals who are alleged to be behind the British Passport Services website were arrested last Thursday.
As part of an ongoing crackdown on copycat sites – which try to trick you into spending over the odds for government services – enforcement officers from the National Trading Standards eCrime Team raided four locations across London and the Home Counties.
The arrests relate to the operators behind British Passport Services, a website that has been charging consumers a premium price considerably greater that that charged by the official government service.
During the arrests officers seized computers, tablets, phones and customer records believed to belong to the company behind the copycat site. Those arrested have been bailed pending further enquiries.
You should remain vigilant of ‘copycat’ websites – and report any suspect sites.
Copycat website arrests
In 2014, police made the first ever arrests of copycat website perpetrators, when at least £55 million worth of consumer detriment was uncovered. Those arrests have led to two further investigations involving charges of fraud, money laundering and CPR charges.
In the case of these more recent arrests, the unofficial passport site had been subject to more than 500 complaints from people who thought they were using the government site before realising that they had been duped into paying over £100 for an unnecessary service.
A Which? conversation post from 2014 has also been inundated with hundreds of comments from angry consumers who felt they’d been tricked by the copycat passport website.
The eCrime Team’s national coordinator Mike Andrews said: ‘We arrested five people who were running a copycat website following large numbers of consumer complaints about the site to Citizens Advice.
‘We felt it imperative to act to prevent these criminals from duping any more people into giving away their money.’
Identify copycat websites
Copycat sites often look official, sound official and tend to do the job – but at a completely unnecessary cost.
They often use URLs that include fragments such as ‘govuk’, ‘directgov’ or relevant organisation names to make them appear to be official providers of services.
These sites also mimic the ‘look and feel’ of official websites, meaning that a consumer may not realise they’re not on a government website until it’s too late.
You should always go directly to the official ‘gov.uk‘ website to purchase government services – such as renewing driving licences, European Health Insurance Cards or passports – rather than relying on search engines where the results can display these copycat sites.