Copycat websites are costing consumers thousands of pounds according to new figures from Derbyshire County Council.
Victims of copycat sites who have complained to council trading standards officers have lost a total of almost £13,000 this year.
The websites offer services from government departments or local government but are not official sites and charge a premium – often with no real benefit to the customer.
An online tax return processing service has cost Derbyshire residents £7,150 this year. And trading standards officers believe it is likely much more money has been lost by people who have not made complaints.
The council has received similar reports about websites that claim to process applications for passports, driving licences, driving tests and European health insurance cards.
Coun Dave Allen, Derbyshire County Council cabinet member for health and communities, said: “These third party websites tread a fine line between failing to properly describe their services and deliberately misleading the public.
“But something is clearly wrong when so many people have parted with money for services they neither wanted nor needed.”
The site developers use website tools to achieve high positions in search engines such as Google, often ranking their site higher than the official site, making it appear as though they are ‘official’ or ‘authorised’.
They also use website addresses designed to be confused with the official site and feature a similar look and brand design.
Figures from the Office for Fair Trading estimate that only two per cent of people who experience a problem with professional or financial services make a complaint. This means that local residents could have lost more than £750,000 on copycat websites this year.
Coun Allen added: “We would always advise members of the public to seek out the official websites that provide these services.”