Trading Standards are warning consumers about unsavoury internet firms who are intercepting them when they search for official government services online.
Every day consumers are duped into paying premium prices for services they can often get free or at much lower cost from local authority, NHS or gov.uk websites.
These firms analyse search traffic for those keywords consumers use to search for services such as driving tests, passports, European health cards (EHIC), or council tax re-banding to name just a few. The firms then pay to be listed at the top of the search engine results pages, above official government search listings, for those keywords the consumers searched on.
Then because consumers are more likely to click on results at the top of the page, they end up on official looking but copy-cat web sites littered with spurious claims offering to save them money, time, or claims the firms can check their applications for errors. These copy-cat websites are often highly compelling, and are carefully laid out and optimised to trap unsuspecting consumers into paying more for services than they really have to.
In fact, many of the claims made by these firms are misleading, because consumers can save time and money and have their applications properly checked, in the first place, by going direct to the official services’ pages on the government website GOV.UK.
For example they end up paying for passport applications, renewal, or checking services they could have got much cheaper online directly from the Passport Office or from popping into their local post offices. They end up paying for European health cards which are actually free, which they can get from NHS.org. Or they end up paying up to £150 after being promised faster driving tests that are no faster than those they can book directly from Driving Standards Authority on GOV.UK, and costing only £31.
So be careful when searching for government services and always think before you click on search results for important government services. Always read the text of the link before you click or follow the links below:
- Apply for or renew your passport here
- Book your theory/practical driving test here
- Get an EHIC health card here