News item

Copycat websites warning following further arrests

Arrests at copycat website company after a surge of consumer complaints.

National Trading Standards is once again warning consumers to be vigilant about ‘copycat’ websites – and to report suspect sites – following the arrest of five people this morning (Thursday 25 June). As part of an ongoing crackdown on the sites – which deceive consumers into spending over the odds for government services – enforcement officers from the National Trading Standards eCrime Team raided four locations across London and the home counties at around 09.30 (Thursday 25 June). 

This morning’s (Thursday 25 June) arrests relate to the operators behind a website which charged consumers a premium price over and above the official government service that could be found on the GOV.UK website. The unofficial site has been subject to over 500* consumer complaints from people who thought they were using the government site before realising they had been duped into paying over £100 for a fake service.

Consumers are reminded to use the official GOV.UK website to purchase government services – such as renewing driving licences, European Health Insurance Cards or passports – rather than search engines where the results often display ‘copycat’ sites that are designed to trick people into paying more for these services. National Trading Standards is also urging users to report websites that they suspect of being copycats to Citizens Advice via the consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 – complaints from consumers are crucial in helping enforcement teams clamp down on individual sites.

During today’s arrests officers seized computers, tablets, phones and customer records believed to belong to the company behind the copycat site. 

Lord Toby Harris, chair, National Trading Standards, said: “The people behind this website have cynically manipulated the way consumers use the internet to mislead them into thinking that they are using an official government service. These arrests send a strong signal to criminals that National Trading Standards will not sit back and see consumers deceived in this way.

“We urge people looking for official government services to visit GOV.UK and search for their required service from there, and to report any suspected copycat websites by calling the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.”

Mike Andrews, NTSeCT’s national coordinator, said: “We arrested five people who were running a copycat website following large numbers of consumer complaints about the site to Citizens Advice. We felt it imperative to act to prevent these criminals from duping any more people into giving away their money.”

CTSI chief executive Leon Livermore said: "We are delighted to see the National Trading Standards e-crime team are working hard to continue the fight against copycat websites. We urge consumers to be vigilant about the websites they are using and to report anything suspicious to the Citizens Advice consumer service."

Today’s events follow the first ever arrests last year of copycat website perpetrators, which has uncovered at least £55 million worth of consumer detriment. Those arrests have led to two investigations involving charges of fraud, money laundering and CPR charges. 

Copycat government websites often use URLs that include fragments such as ‘govuk’, ‘directgov’ or relevant organisation names to make them appear to be official providers of certain services. Clever use of design means these sites mimic the ‘look and feel’ of official websites, meaning that a consumer may not realise they are not on a government website until it’s too late. 

Top tips to avoid being duped include:

  • Use GOV.UK. It is the easiest and most secure place to find government services and information online
  • Instead of searching for the services you need via a search engine, go to GOV.UK and use the search function there. Then you’ll know you’re on the official site
  • If you do use a search engine, look out for the differences between natural search results and paid-for search results.

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For media enquiries, interview requests or more information please contact the National Trading Standards press office on 020 7025 7570 or e-mail nationaltradingstandards@grayling.com

Notes to editors

* Source 504 complaints to Citizens Advice consumer database up to June 2015.

National Trading Standards

  • National Trading Standards provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally. It was set up by the Government in 2012 as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards. 

National Trading Standards eCrime Team

  • Funded by National Trading Standards, the National Trading Standards eCrime Team recognises that a secure and safe online environment that protects consumers and allows businesses to flourish is vital to the long term success of the UK economy. 
  • The eCrime Team provides a national resource to support all local authority areas in England and Wales, tackling the increasing threat to businesses and consumers in relation to internet scams and rip-offs.  There are separate arrangements in place in Scotland. 

DATE: 26 June 2015