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Government must do more to stop ‘copycat’ websites

The government must do more to stop citizens being fooled by “copycat” websites that can lead internet users to paying for free public services, MPs say.

The transport select committee said the government “must do more” to alert motorists especially to the websites, which charge for services such as applying for a driving test or licence. Efforts are required across Whitehall to tackle the problem, including alerting search engines such as Google to the “impersonator” sites.

The report analysed services offered by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA).

The AA told the committee it had seen an increase in complaints about impersonator websites charging for services.

The committee’s report said motoring organisations recognised there was a case for services that added value by offering to check applications or speed up the application process. But it said the government agencies appeared to coexist with alternative, unofficial “service providers”. The AA said it was “almost immoral that [such sites] can ply a trade that basically tricks people”.

In London, TfL is consulting on a proposal that it should refuse to accept payments from copycat websites or other unauthorised third parties, the report states.

The problem goes beyond the Department for Transport, with the Government Digital Service (GDS) leading efforts to address the issue, the committee noted. There have been concerns about websites that charge people to apply for free European Health Insurance Cards, for example.

GDS tracks the activity of such sites and shares information with search engines so they can take action. The National Trading Standards Board has also received an additional £120,000 in funding to “clamp down on misleading websites”.

A government spokeswoman said: “The government takes this issue very seriously, that is why the Cabinet Office is leading work between departments and a number of organisations that have a role to prevent websites making misleading claims. As a result the National Trading Standards Body has closed down several sites that they found to be acting fraudulently.

“The DVLA has published advice on GOV.UK to remind motorists that GOV.UK is the first stop for motoring services and that other websites may charge additional fees.”

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