Imagine you’re applying for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you go on holiday. You go to the website only to find there’s a fee, even though the service is free from the Government.

Or imagine you’re getting a new passport and the website says it costs hundreds, not the renewal price of £72.50. Why has this happened?

It’s likely that these are copycat websites. But what does this actually mean? We’ll take you through all you need to know and how to make sure you don’t end up out of pocket.

What are copycat websites?

Copycat websites are sites that charge you to process Government documents, even though you can do them yourself through the official websites. They appear as though they are official Government websites though they’re actually nothing to do with the Government, and they can mean you pay more for no reason.

Some common copycat website services include:

  • HMRC self-assessment tax returns – do this on the Gov.uk website,
  • driving tests – book it on the Gov.uk site for £62,
  • passport applications – pay £72.50 for one on the Gov.uk site,
  • EHIC applications – get one free on the NHS EHIC website, and
  • US visas – these cost just $14 from the official site.

Copycat websites don’t provide a service that does anything different to the Government sites. They’re not actually scams because they don’t do anything illegal. They will usually claim they charge for processing or checking the forms but the Government websites do this for you already – at a much lower cost or for free.

Make sure you don’t lose out

So how do you know if you’re on a copycat website or the official Government sites? These tips should make sure you don’t end up out of pocket.

  1. Be careful on Google. If you land on a website from a search engine, beware if it’s an advert. Google has cracked down on a lot of copycat websites’ adverts now, but some still pay to appear at the top of the searches.
  2. Check the URL. Official Government website addresses should end with ‘gov.uk’. If it ends with anything else, it’s not a legitimate Government site.
  3. Look for clues. Check everything on the home page and application page. It will usually say if the site isn’t affiliated with the Government or if it’s an unofficial website.
  4. See if it’s https. If you’re putting in personal or banking information, check to see if starts with ‘https://’. This lets you know there’s encryption in place to keep your details safe. While this might not prove you’re on the official site, it will mean that your banking information stays private.
  5. If you’ve used a copycat site. You can report the copycat site through the official Government website. This means Google can look at the site and see if it’s misleading. If it thinks it is, it will take it down. You can also contact the site to say you feel misled and want a refund.