A number of scam websites have been taken down by the UK Trading Standards Institute (TSI), after it received around 5,000 complaints from the public about sites charging for free government services.
The TSI has advised people to be on the lookout for these scam sites and confirmed that four arrest warrants have been made. The TSI estimates its investigation will lead to the closure of around 25 websites.
Lord Toby Harris, chair of the National Trading Standards Board, said: “Our e-crime team is clamping down on the cyber fraudsters behind these websites and we are making it as difficult as possible for these online hoaxers to operate.
“We have been working with search engines such as Google and Bing to remove adverts from online search results and we continue to gather intelligence across the country to help tackle this issue.
“We urge you to avoid unofficial websites which could leave you out-of-pocket or at risk of identity theft. Only use the Gov.uk website to find government services. If you come across copycat websites, report them to Citizens Advice.”
The websites charged people for services relating to driving licences and paying income tax. We have seen a number of other scammers jailed for similar acts, and some of those have taken the public for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert said that users should be aware of scam sites and recommended that people go straight to a government page and avoid searching for solutions.
“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,” he said.
“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 Gov.uk, don’t use search engines.”