The Internet, great as it is, can also be a cowboy’s playground; anyone can be anything and with technology as immense as it is today it takes very little effort for a fraudster to look truly authentic.
An on-going issue in the online world is that of Copycat websites, not only a problem for search engines and original websites but also a huge problem for Internet users who can be conned out of thousands of pounds for services which are either currently free, or very cheap.
Which? Founded in 1957, is a group set up to attempt to protect the consumer rights of the general public. They publicise many campaigns to ensure that consumers’ lives are safer, simpler and fairer and have an exceptionally wide range of investigations on-going. Their latest investigation has been into the world of copycat websites and how they affect people. They have researched this at length and conducted a wide-ranging analysis on that of the copycat websites. These are affecting people more and more frequently, and a perfect example would be online Passport websites.
Passport “Check and Send” Service Fraudulent Websites
Even to the trained eye many of these sites looked very much the part and extremely similar to the official Passport Application form. With Home pages saying ‘UK Passport Application Service’ why would anyone think these sites were not genuine?
In every large Post Office in Britain you will find a passport check and send service, which is where an official will check your application form to look for errors or missing information as well as checking that your photograph meets the criteria. Once this is confirmed as completed correctly they will send it to the Passport office for you to prevent delays on your passport application.
This is a service that is done by trained professionals and costs £8.75. The Passport sites found by Which? also offer this service at a staggering £72.50, making £63.75 from ever person to fall prey to this service. Concentrating mainly on websites passing themselves off as official government services Which? found websites also supposedly specialising in Tax Returns and NHS services.
Whats being done about these websites?
Action is now being taken to prevent all rogue websites that imitate legitimate government services since Which? highlighted the effect this is having on people in the UK.
Recently the Cabinet Office has begun to work with major search engines and government agencies, such as Google, and the Advertising Standards Agency, along with Which? to tackle this on-going problem. With Government backing of £120,000 to aid identifying and investigating misleading websites who are currently doing very well at conning members of the public it is sure to shut down a good few websites selling fraudulent services.
Google has announced that they will be removing repeat offenders and taking down any misleading adverts. There is also a website newly created by Which? Where you can check a websites authenticity. These are, however, the first baby steps in what is set to be an immense crack down.
You can read about Which?’s investigation more here