Copycat website warning as drivers looking for blue badge information online raise the alarm | Oxfordshire County Council
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Copycat website warning as drivers looking for blue badge information online raise the alarm

Published 16 February 2016

Oxfordshire’s disabled motorists are being warned they could be paying up to five times too much for their blue parking badge.

Oxfordshire County Council’s Customer Service Centre has received a number of calls alerting them to an online company charging £49 for a blue badge application whereas the council charges just £10 for issuing a badge and no charge to apply.

The company appears prominently when people do an on line search for how to apply for a blue badge and the link leads to what has been described as a copycat website.

Jody Kerman. Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standard Operations manager said: "Copycat websites is a term that describes websites which charge consumers a premium price, over and above the official government service, that could be found on the GOV.UK website."

These sites are commonly known as ‘copycat’ websites because they offer services from government departments and contain features similar to that of the official site making it appear as though they are ‘official’ or ‘authorised’. Many of these companies use website tools to achieve high positions in search engines often ranking them higher than the official site, and the majority of them charge a premium for a service that is often provided much cheaper or even free by Government departments (source ASA)

"In this case, the company is charging £49 for a blue badge. The council charges just £10 and if someone is having problems with the process then there is a variety of help available on the Oxfordshire County Council website and through the Customer Service Centre. For more information on Blue Badge Parking Permits in Oxfordshire, including how to apply online please visit

https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/disabledparking

“Similar copycat websites exist on issues such as driving licence applications, passport applications, European health card applications, tax returns, booking driving tests etc.

“Often these kind of sites are not illegal but people are being drawn into spending far more than they need to.”

How to avoid copycat websites:

  • Look for ‘.GOV’ in the web address. All government services can be accessed at https://www.gov.uk/
  • Take time to read the information on the website carefully to check it’s the official service.  Visit the homepage and read the text there. It may even declare the site is not officially affiliated with the official body
  • Do not automatically opt to use the first website(s) you find in a search engine, even if the address seems authentic and you are in a hurry.
  • Don't be fooled by a .org web address as this doesn't guarantee it's the official site
  • Take a couple of minutes to double-check the site - don’t dive into filling out an application form.

 

What to do if you have used a copycat website:

  • Contact the website as soon as possible to see if you can cancel the contract
  • Contact your card provider to see if they can assist in this situation
  • Report to the national consumer advice helpline on 03454 04 05 06

 

Jody added: ”It is hard to stop these sites as  whilst some of them may have ‘dubious’ practices, it can be difficult to prove that they are illegal.

“Taking down a website, or removing from search engine results, can take time – if that is an option in the first place. These sites are normally based outside of the EU and, once removed, reappear very quickly with similar names.

“That is why the best way to deal with them is to warn people to be on the look out and encourage people to follow the advice above.”

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