West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service are warning people not to be scammed by websites that charge for a service consumers could carry out themselves - for free.
Trading Standards have received complaints that relate to internet sites that offer services such as renewing or applying for a passport, blue badge opermits, HGV licences, driving licences, to make a benefit claim or any other government related service.
Although these websites appear to be endorsed by, or are in some way affiliated with the government, they are in fact not.
The websites charge consumers for the process of applying or renewing for a product on their behalf. So not only will a consumer pay the normal cost for the product, but will also be charged for application process, whilst unbeknown to them, they could apply themselves at no extra cost.
Trading Standards is advising consumers to be careful when selecting internet sites, particularly those which come near the top of search engine pages, and offers the following advice and information:
There are two different categories of websites:
*Unofficial ‘copycat’ websites that explain within their terms and conditions that they are not affiliated with any government agency. Although they may look like the official website, if the site clearly states it is not endorsed or affiliated with a government agency and you decide to accept their fee, then the company is not committing any criminal offence.
*Misleading websites that purport to be affiliated and associated with a government agency and give the impression that you need to apply for the product, either it be a passport, driving licence, through them at an extra cost, when in fact they have no such association and the consumer could have quite easily applied themselves through an official website at no extra cost.
To prevent this from happening, consumers should carefully check the terms and conditions to see who the business/organisation is and whether it claims to be affiliated with a government organisation.
They can also check its URL - is it .com or co.uk when it should be gov.uk.
David Lodge, Head of West Yorkshire Trading Standards said: ‘We have seen a rise in the number of residents who have fallen foul of websites which at first glance appear to be the appropriate government pages.
“However, consumers have later realised that the money they’ve sent off isn’t actually to pay for the goods in question, but is to cover the administration process only. He also advises consumers to always remain vigilant whilst shopping on the internet, saying ‘Check that the website you’re on has a ‘.gov.uk’ ending if you’re applying for a driving licence, passport or similar, and make sure you know who you are doing business with before sending off your money.
“If you believe you’ve been scammed by a fake website, please contact Citizens’ Advice.”
Any consumer who has concerns regarding a misleading website, or where residents believe they may have already fallen victim to a scam website, report the details to Trading Standards via the Citizens’ Advice Consumer Helpline on 0845 404 0506.