TRADING Standards are warning Vale residents about copycat government websites after a number of complaints from members of the public.
Unscrupulous companies aim to trick people into paying for applications, up to £1,000 in some cases, which are available free of charge on government websites.
Services such as applications for passports, driving licences, tax rebates, tax returns and the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) have all been targeted in recent months.
People are falling foul of the copycat websites because they appear at the top of keyword searches on internet search engines such as Google, are deliberately set up to mimic the official government version and feature the same colour scheme as the old direct.gov websites, all designed to confuse the applicant.
What the applicant is actually paying for is an overseas third party form filling service. This fact is hidden in the terms and conditions on the copycat website.
Even more concerning is the fact that sensitive data submitted to these websites is going to an unknown source.
Christina Roberts-Kinsey principal Trading Standards officer gave this advice: “After searching the web, always take a moment to check that you are in a legitimate website and scroll past the sponsored results at the top. If you are in any doubt at all, access the official government website www.gov.uk and navigate to the service you require through there.”
People who have lost money in this way who require advice may contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service helpline on 08454 040506.
Victims of fraud or identity theft can contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 for a crime reference number and further information.