Ad watchdog cracks down on copycat websites

The advertising watchdog has slammed three websites that charge for services such as passport renewal that are free through public channels for trying to pass themselves off as official providers. 

Copycat sites
Three sites, including ukpassportoffices.co.uk, rapped by ASA for passing themselves off as official Government providers.

The Advertising Standards Authority said the European Health Card, UK Passport Offices Information Resource and Official Services sites misled consumers into believing they were official Government service providers.

The www.europeanhealthcard.co.uk site did not make it clear the service it was charging for was free through the NHS, the watchdog ruled. It added the “overall impression” of the site would lead visitors to conclude it was an publically funded service because disclaimers did not point back to official .gov.uk services that offered the same for free.  

The watchdog said www.uk-officialservices.co.uk, where users can obtain birth and marriage certificates among others, was too similar in appearance to the “certificate ordering service” on the www.gov.uk website, particularly given its use of the crown emblem. The site also charged a premium in addition to the usual administrative fees charged for certificates.

Meanwhile, www.ukpassportoffices.co.uk, which offers passport advice and declared itself “proud to claim no Government accreditation” did not make it clear the service change it levied was not the only cost to the user and that people would have to pay an additional to obtain a passport from the Government’s passport office, the ASA said. 

All three cannot continue in their current form, the ASA added, and need to be more transparent about charges and status.

The rulings follow the July launch of the ASA’s proactive sweep of copycat sites after receiving thousands of complaints. The public’s disquiet has triggered Government into action with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills handing the National Trading Standards Board an additional £120,000 to investigate sites passing themselves off as official services. 

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