Which? response to Cabinet Office’s announcement on copycat websites

In response to the announcement from Cabinet Office on copycat websites 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. There must be an immediate crackdown on copycat websites, along with a review of legislation and any offending sites immediately removed from the internet.”

Research on copycat websites:

We looked at 10 websites providing services for passport applications, European health cards and tax return services and found them to be misleading or confusing, providing poor value for money and leaving some consumers up to £1000 out of pocket.

  • Passport sites – Of the seven passport sites we studied we found examples where users could be misled in to thinking they were on the official Government pages. One site, passport.gb.com, welcomes visitors to the ‘UK Passport Application Service’, while another site, britishpassportservices.co.uk, has an online form that is extremely similar to the official Passport Application form.  We also found UK-Passport.net to offer poor value for money as it checks passport applications for a fee of £72.50, however, the same service is available at the Post Office for a fraction of the cost at £8.75.
  • EHIC sites – Of the two European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) sites we looked at, we found europeanhealthcard.org.uk wrongly claiming that it offered services that weren’t available through the NHS. We also found the web address of the nhs-e111-ehic.org.uk confusing as the use of NHS in the URL may lead consumers to think they are using the official site.
  • Tax return sites – We also studied TaxReturnGateway.com following complaints to Which?, with people reporting having been charged between £150 and £1,000 for processing a self-assessment tax return. The site claims that it provides extra services for the fee, such as checking the application for errors but we think this is misleading as HMRC has told us that the applications through the official site are also checked for errors.

We carried out research on copycat passport websites on 18 February 2014. Research into copycat EHIC sites and Tax Return Gateway was carried out on 20 February 2014.

The Which? Consumer Rights website features free tips and advice on how to spot a copycat website

For further information or case studies please contact Meera Khanna in the Which? Press Office on 0207 770 7699/07970 132 804 or email meera.khanna@which.co.uk

 

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