Don’t fall for copycat charges

Published: 25 April 2014

Riders are being warned they could be paying over the odds when using the internet to carry out essential tasks like applying for a tax disc, declaring a bike as SORN or replacing their driving licence.

Websites that bear a strong similarity to the official Government’s official gov.uk site are in operation and they take a payment for services that would otherwise be free through gov.uk, or add an extra charge on top. The copycat sites cover a wide range of Government services from passport applications to tax disc renewal, and the biggest surprise is that they’re legal.

As long as sites point out they are not affiliated or connected with the Government they are allowed to continue trading, attracting unwitting customers paying up to £40 for un-necessary services.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, told MCN: “When it comes to copycat websites it is a case of buyer beware. The Office of Fair Trading has ruled these sites are legal, though the advertising watchdog has acted against those middlemen who fail to make clear they are not officially sanctioned. For now the best advice is not to part with any money until you have carefully checked the web address is GOV.UK.”

The sites are cleverly designed to resemble the official site, and some are listed near the top of results of searches on Google. One such site advertises with Google, making it the first result of a search for ‘tax disc renewal’, ahead of the official Government site. Once you click onto its site it points out that it’s “not affiliated or connected with DVLA or gov.uk”. It lists charges including £35 to declare a vehicle SORN, which would be free through the Government’s gov.uk site, and £45 for a replacement V5C document, which would cost £25 through gov.uk.

Our images of the official gov.uk site and a copycat site show how easy it would be for someone to think they're on the official site when they're not, even though the warnings are there for those who look closely,

MCN’s advice to avoid copycat sites is to go straight to www.gov.uk and type the service you want, such as ‘tax disc renewal’, in the search window to make sure you’re only paying what you need to pay.

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