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Five arrested over fake government websites

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Five people have been arrested after creating a series of hoax Government websites that took cash from unsuspecting UK citizens. 

After more than 5,700 complaints were received by the Advertising Standards Authority and Citizens Advice, four search warrants were executed leading to the arrest of five individuals and disrupting the operation of at least 25 copycat websites. 

These hoax websites allow you to purchase new passports, buy European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC), book driving lessons and renew tax discs, tricking you into parting with your cash unnecessarily. This might be because GOV.UK already provides the service cheaper or free-of-charge.

Some sites use URLs that contain fragments of official web addresses, such as "govuk" or "directgov" to dupe innocent victims.

Trading Standards have launched an awareness campaign to cut out the copycats and help UK citizens understand how to spot fake sites, and then report them.

As part of the campaign they’ve release an information video and infographic.

Martin Lewis, creator of MoneySavingExpert, who provided the voiceover for the National Trading Standards video, said: “Sadly, vigilance is necessary even when using official services.  Copycat websites disguise themselves as the real thing, but charge you for a useless service.  I’ve lost count of the number of people who contact me upset and want to know how to get their cash back.”

“Generally that’s very difficult, which is why you need to be tooled up in advance with the knowledge National Trading Standards is putting out today. If you want a Government service, go through - don’t use search engines.” 

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.

The National Trading Standards Board are aiming to make things “as difficult as possible” for the cyber criminals managing these sites. 

Board Chairman Lord Harris said they were working with major search engines like Bing and Google “to remove adverts from online search results and we continue to gather intelligence across the country to help tackle this issue.”