A council has taken down an advert for a 'shyster' site - which charges customers £35 to submit an otherwise free EHIC application - after MoneySavingExpert.com contacted it.
European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) are free from the official EHIC website and give you free or discounted medical care in all 28 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland - but some unofficial websites demand a fee for processing your application.
An advert on Wrexham County Borough Council's website linked users directly to one of these sites, where they would be charged £35 for their EHIC application.
The same advert also included a link to a website which charges users £64.95 to get an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa for travel to the USA, when they normally cost just $14 (£10).
The advert was drawn to our attention by a Twitter user who called the advert a "disgrace" and asked us to raise awareness of the issue. Once we contacted Wrexham Council about it, it removed the advert from its site.
For information on how to spot shyster sites see 60 seconds on copycat websites.
Martin: 'It's outrageous to see a council falling for these sites'
MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis said: "EHIC and ESTA shyster sites have been going around for years, and it's outrageous to see a council falling for them.
"One has to hope that this is due to simple negligence and not that the council was unnecessarily trying to lead people into something nobody should do.
"I'm very pleased to hear that they've taken down the advert and one hopes it will never go back up. Frankly, these types of adverts should be banned right across the web, no matter where they are, but for a local council - that is meant to be there to try and help the people in its locality - to put it up is abhorrent."
Where did the advert appear?
The advert appeared in a column on the right-hand side of Wrexham Council's website, as can be seen below:
When we tested it the 'EHIC Renewal' link it took us to a website that prominently states it can submit an EHIC application for a fee of £35 but does add you can get one for free from the NHS.
When we tested the 'Apply for your Esta Visa' link, in the same advert, it took us to a website which says it will submit an ESTA application for travel to America for £64.95, when they normally cost just $14 (£10). Again this website explains that users can obtain an ESTA visa for just $14 from the US Government.
Always apply via official sites
It isn't unlawful for a website to charge for a reviewing and forwarding service - if they make it clear they aren't offering official services - but there's no reason to pay any extra.
If you're applying for an EHIC always use the official EHIC website and apply for free - see more details in Free EHIC card guide.
If you're applying for an ESTA visa, again, only use the official website. See our Get an ESTA for US travel guide for more information.
Can you get your money back from a shyster site if you've paid?
Sadly, far too many are caught out through Googling "EHIC" and end up paying through an unofficial site. If this has happened to you, it's unlikely you'll be able to get your money back. However, it's worth contacting the site straight away and asking for a full refund, just in case.
This won't always work, but it's worth a shot – one MoneySaver who paid for his EHIC via an unofficial website found its terms allowed refunds within 30 days, so used this to get his money back (see the Paid-for EHIC applicants could get refund MSE news story).
This won't be in all sites' terms, but if it's happened to you, do give it a go and let us know how you get on in the Free EHIC discussion.
What does Wrexham Council say?
A spokesperson for Wrexham Council said: "We have taken the advertisement down while we look into those concerns raised."