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Drivers Conned By Copycat Websites

By raccars Published

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A report by the Commons transport select committee has raised concern about the number of copycat websites charging customers for services available for free on the official government website. MPs have agreed that more must be done to warn motorists against the copycat websites and direct them to the official site.

The websites in question charge fees for services, including applying for a driving licence or a driving test. The sites often look similar in style to the government's official website and sound professional. The Commons transport select committee has warned that a concerted effort must be made by Whitehall to alert motorists to the problem, such as co-opting search engines, including Google, to make it clear which are 'impersonator' websites.

Services by the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency), the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) and the VCA (Vehicle Certification Agency) were analysed as part of the report, which also revealed that complaints about the copycat websites are increasing.

Paid services assisting people with the dealings with government agencies are not illegal in themselves and many add value, for example by checking data or fast tracking. The problem is some of these websites do not make it clear that they have no affiliation with official government agencies and do not explain to consumers that the same service can be carried out, free of charge, through the correct, government channels. In effect, copycat website are so called because they allow consumers to believe that they are official and government affiliated.

Transport for London is making moves to tackle the problem by asking the DVLA to issue letters to motorists who have paid congestion charges via an unofficial website. Another move under consideration by TfL is to refuse payments made via unauthorised third parties, such as copycat websites.

A number of government agencies are now involved in finding a solution to the problem, including the GDS (Government Digital Service), which tracks copycat website activity to advise search engines and enable them to take action. £120,000 in funding has been given to the National Trading Standards Board, to help it challenge the dodgy websites, as a result of which a number of sites have been closed down upon a charge of fraudulent activity.

Drivers should remember that GOV.UK is the website suffix for official government agencies and that other websites, no matter how official and professional they may look, are not part of any official government agency and, as such, may levy extra fees.

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