Copycat websites mimic official private or government websites, but are in fact operated privately.
These websites often induce consumers to pay a fee or an extra charge for a service which is readily or freely available from the official website.
Processes often targeted by copycat websites include:
- renewing a passport or driving licence
- booking a driving test
- applying for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
- submitting a self-assessment tax return
- paying a congestion charge
People have complained that they have felt misled into thinking that copycat websites were actually the official service.It’s very easy to mistake a copycat website for an official provider because they often share similar visual features and claims.
There are a number of ways you can reduce the risk of being 'caught out' by a copycat website:
- do not always select the first website which appears in internet search results; a copycat website may come first in the search engine results as a 'paid-for' search engine result (a boxed advert displayed at the top of result pages), whereas the official site might well be the first or second 'non paid-for' link that appears below it
- take a couple of minutes to double-check the site and don’t enter your personal information or make a payment until you are absolutely sure who you are dealing with; you may discover on closer examination that the site declares that it is not affiliated with the official body
- check for 'https://' at the beginning of the website address in the browser address bar; on pages where you are entering personal information, 'https://' acts as an encryption to protect your personal details whereas websites with 'http://' do not
- check the web address and don’t be fooled by a web address which ends '.org' as this is no guarantee of an official website; any website that is claiming to be a government website should have a web address which ends with '.gov.uk'
If you wish to report a website which has passed itself off as an official site, please contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on telephone: 03454 040506.