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Council issues 'copycat website' warning

Scam alert

Gateshead Council is warning of a major rise in copycat scams and is urging residents to check official-looking websites carefully before using them.

Copycat scams often involve unscrupulous people setting up websites which closely mimic Government or other official sites and charge people a fee to use them, even though the service they are offering is often free of charge.

Typical copycat websites are those which offer services such as passport and driving licence renewals. The website will process your renewal and charge you a fee which is often way in excess of the charge you'd normally pay on the official website.

Most people are tricked into using copycat websites after doing a Google search and then clicking on the first link in the search results without realising that it is a paid advert for the copycat website.

Now Gateshead Council Trading Standards is warning residents to watch out for these copycat scams by following a few basic steps.

If the website is claiming to represent an arm of Government like HMRC or the DVLA, read the homepage very carefully before proceeding. It'll probably state somewhere that it is not actually affiliated with the official body and will merely forward any submission to the appropriate site.

This text may not be immediately obvious, but scammers will include it somewhere to allow them to evade criminal liability for impersonation.

Check the end of the website address carefully, too. Websites that end in .org or .org.uk are not necessarily official sites as these domains can be bought and used by anyone. Official government websites will generally only use .gov.uk domains which are much more strictly controlled and not available to the general public.

Finally, when you look at your Google search results, remember that the first one or two may well be advertisements. These results will be marked 'Ad' and you would be wise to ignore them.

Contact Trading StandardsCouncillor Kevin Dodds, chairman of the Tyne and Wear Joint Trading Standards Committee, says:  

"There are always people looking for an opportunity to exploit any situation.

"These websites often provide a legitimate service but in fact they are totally unnecessary 'middle men' who are selling an unnecessary service. That's why it's important for people to look very carefully and choose a website with .gov.uk in their web address." 

Anneliese Hutchinson, service director for Development, Transport and Public Protection, says: 

"These scams rely on people not realising that the first couple of results in any Google search are usually adverts by private companies. Any person can pay to have their website listed as the first one in a search engine result, including the owners of copycat websites.

"What they are relying on is the fact that most people click on the first result in a Google search and don' check to see if it is an ad or not, so the best way to protect yourself from these copycat websites is to ensure you don't do that.

"Follow these simple rules and you should avoid the copycat sites and save yourself some money." 

Scam alert
24 June 2020

Gateshead Council is warning of a major rise in copycat scams and is urging residents to check official-looking websites carefully before using them.

Copycat scams often involve unscrupulous people setting up websites which closely mimic Government or other official sites and charge people a fee to use them, even though the service they are offering is often free of charge.

Typical copycat websites are those which offer services such as passport and driving licence renewals. The website will process your renewal and charge you a fee which is often way in excess of the charge you'd normally pay on the official website.

Most people are tricked into using copycat websites after doing a Google search and then clicking on the first link in the search results without realising that it is a paid advert for the copycat website.

Now Gateshead Council Trading Standards is warning residents to watch out for these copycat scams by following a few basic steps.

If the website is claiming to represent an arm of Government like HMRC or the DVLA, read the homepage very carefully before proceeding. It'll probably state somewhere that it is not actually affiliated with the official body and will merely forward any submission to the appropriate site.

This text may not be immediately obvious, but scammers will include it somewhere to allow them to evade criminal liability for impersonation.

Check the end of the website address carefully, too. Websites that end in .org or .org.uk are not necessarily official sites as these domains can be bought and used by anyone. Official government websites will generally only use .gov.uk domains which are much more strictly controlled and not available to the general public.

Finally, when you look at your Google search results, remember that the first one or two may well be advertisements. These results will be marked 'Ad' and you would be wise to ignore them.

Contact Trading StandardsCouncillor Kevin Dodds, chairman of the Tyne and Wear Joint Trading Standards Committee, says:  

"There are always people looking for an opportunity to exploit any situation.

"These websites often provide a legitimate service but in fact they are totally unnecessary 'middle men' who are selling an unnecessary service. That's why it's important for people to look very carefully and choose a website with .gov.uk in their web address." 

Anneliese Hutchinson, service director for Development, Transport and Public Protection, says: 

"These scams rely on people not realising that the first couple of results in any Google search are usually adverts by private companies. Any person can pay to have their website listed as the first one in a search engine result, including the owners of copycat websites.

"What they are relying on is the fact that most people click on the first result in a Google search and don' check to see if it is an ad or not, so the best way to protect yourself from these copycat websites is to ensure you don't do that.

"Follow these simple rules and you should avoid the copycat sites and save yourself some money." 

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