Fake and Copycat Websites

The first port of call for links to use for official government services of any kind is the website:

www.gov.uk

Do not be embarrassed if you have been a victim of fraud. Report it to Action Fraud:

www.actionfraud.police.uk

If you receive a suspicious email, forward it to:

phishing@gov.uk

and then delete it.

One victim typed ‘McAfee’ into a search engine because they wanted help from the respected computer security company. They clicked on a prominent link that they wrongly thought to be genuine but actually contacted fraudsters, who obtained their personal details and took control of their computer.

Another wanted to change the address on their driving licence. They could do so, free of charge, on the official DVLA website. A websearch with the term ‘driving licence’ listed  an official looking website that offered that service for £25. All they did was forward the victim's details on to the DVLA. What else they did with the information is anybody's guess.

While most of us are aware that emails and phone calls are used by faudsters to cheat us, we may not always realise the dangers of fraudulent websites.

Scam and phishing emails often contain instructions to click on links but this is something you should never do because the website you open can contain malicious computer code that will infect your device.

It is not difficult for fraudsters to set up websites that closely imitate those of popular and reliable bands and services, so doing a web-search always carries risks. They can pay to have their addresses listed near or at the top of the results, pushing genuine entries down the page or over to subsequent pages, in order to lure prospective victims to their site in the mistaken belief that it is the real one. Research shows that most people never look further than the first page of search results.

These websites fall into three main categories:

  • Those that offer goods at prices that are too good to be true because the items do not actually exist and your order never arrives. By the time you realise that you have been cheated, your money and the website are long-gone and untraceable.
  • Those that offer well-known brands at believable prices but a little cheaper than elsewhere. Your order arrives but the goods are cheap (but convincing) imitations. Not only will you pay well over the odds for inferior products but they are often dangerous to use, especially electrical goods and toys.
  • Copycat sites that claim to supply official services, such as driving licence applications. All they do is collect your personal details and forward them to the real website on your behalf, adding their own fee to your final bill, even when the service itself is free. You then have no control over what else they may do with your details.

The safest way to find a branded website is to look at any paperwork or physical catalogue you know to be genuine and copy the address from there. Official sites are best visited through the government portal: www.gov.uk.

When searching the web be very careful which of the results you choose. Scroll down the list and examine each result carefully. Fraudsters are very inventive in using methods to make web addresses look like those of genuine brands. Do not be misled by the use of the word official in an address, it does not always mean what it says. Find the link that looks the most likely but, having opened it, check it carefully.

  • Does it look and feel right?
  • Does it have a padlock sign to show that it is a certified site?
  • Click on the padlock for more information. (What is shown varies from browser to browser.)
  • Always double-check that the payment page has the padlock sign and is secure.
  • Only pay using a credit card and never by a direct bank transfer.

If you have any doubts do not continue but leave the site and explore the list further. It is better to lose a bargain than have your details compromised and your money stolen.