The Government is giving extra cash to trading standards groups to crack down on misleading websites that claim to offer official services such as provisional driving licence applications.
Consumer Minister Jenny Willott has given an extra £120,000 to the National Trading Standards Board, which represents consumer bodies, to help it tackle the copycat sites.
People have mistakenly paid up to £1,000 to submit online tax returns – something which you can do free via HMRC (see our Avoid self-assessment copycat sites MSE News story), while last week Google removed ads linking to unofficial London congestion charge sites (see the Google axes copycat ads MSE News story).
Other websites offer similar paid-for 'checking' services for provisional driving licence applications, European Health Insurance Cards, and Esta forms for travel to the US (see the Boris Johnson aide stung by Esta copycat site MSE News story).
The sites exaggerate the nature of the services they provide or deliberately underplay the fact that people can get them for free or at a lower cost from official sources.
Often it's hard for consumers to get their money back, although if you think you've been misled or the website you used wasn't clear, it's worth directly contacting the firm in question to ask for a refund.
The Government is also encouraging those who feel misled after clicking on adverts for these sites from online search engines to report it. It says this will help search engines remove these adverts as quickly as possible.
Misleading websites 'need to be stopped'
Consumer Minister Jenny Willott says: "Misleading websites which dupe people into believing they are using the official Government channel need to be stopped in their tracks.
"The unfortunate reality is that a minority are exploiting those who are perhaps less web-savvy and we need to clamp down on them.
"These rogues that con people out of their hard-earned cash need to know that the full glare of Trading Standards is now on them."