Three 'copycat' websites purporting to be official government services that have misled consumers and left them out of pocket have been banned by the advertising watchdog.
Europeanhealthcard.org.uk, uk-officialservices.co.uk and ukpassportoffices.co.uk all misled consumers into thinking they were official websites, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) said, with consumers typically overcharged for the services the websites offered.
Following an investigation in July, the ASA ruled the three websites must not appear in their current format again and must include prominent disclaimers telling consumers they are not official channels, along with details of any additional costs.
The ASA said europeanhealthcard.org.uk charged £23.50 for an application verification service for those wanting to get a European health card (EHIC) but failed to mention they are free when applied for through the NHS.
Ukpassportoffices.co.uk also charged for a passport application verification service (£117.60) but didn't include the actual cost of the passport itself, while uk-officialservices.co.uk allowed consumers to obtain documents such as marriage and death certificates but charged a fee to do so.
The watchdog said it has received a large number of complaints about copycat websites, and Moneywise has also seen a rise in the number of people who have been duped by these sorts of websites in recent months.
In July, five scammers were arrested for running copycat websites, while Citizens' Advice received more than 2,000 complaints about such websites in the first three months of the year.
Check out our guide about copycat websites and what you can do to stay safe