Drivers have been warned not to be duped by government website copycats charging for services that would normally be free.
The sites, which are frequently designed to look similar to the official web pages, offer services such as applying for driving tests and licences. But while you can get much of this paperwork for free if you go direct to the government sites, the copycats charge.
The Commons Transport Select Committee’s Labour chairwoman Louise Ellman said the government must do more to warn drivers about the potential unnecessary costs of these misleading sites. Some will charge up to £70 just to apply for a replacement driving licence photo card on the unsuspecting driver’s behalf. If you apply direct to the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), it costs £20.
The report looked into the services provided by the DVLA as well as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA). Ms Ellman concluded: “The DVLA and DVSA are important for delivering essential services related to tax, licensing, testing, and vehicle safety. The Government must do more to warn motorists about misleading ‘copycat’ websites that charge for services provided for free by motoring agencies.”
Last year more than 5000 complaints were made to Citizens Advice about these websites and there were 700 objections to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Common grievances involved companies demanding a ‘service fee’ on top of any official charges for passports and driving licences.
Earlier this summer, five arrests were made under the Fraud Act and for consumer protection for unfair trading regulations as the authorities attempted to halt a copycat scam.
Websites often have design features and the look and feel of official sites and even include identifiers like ‘govuk’ and ‘directgov’ in their URLs.
Chairman for the National Trading Standards Board Lord Harris said: “We have been working with search engines such as Google and Bing to remove adverts from online search results and we continue to gather intelligence across the country to help tackle this issue. We urge you to avoid unofficial websites which could leave you out of pocket or at risk of identity theft. Only use the GOV.UK website to find Government services. If you come across copycat websites, report them to Citizens Advice.”
Martin Lewis, creator of the consumer financial advice site MoneySavingExpert, added: “I’ve lost count of the number of people who contact me upset and want to know how to get their cash back.”