How is it possible that copycat websites continue to plague the internet?
For years we have exposed how these sites, purposely designed to look official, trick victims into paying large fees for services they can typically get for free.
Yet as we reveal today they are still some of the top results for Google searches such as ‘apply for national insurance number’ and ‘driving licence apply’.
No action: For years we have exposed how copycat sites, purposely designed to look official, trick victims into paying large fees for services they can typically get for free
These firms know that if they appear above the Government’s official website, busy people will inevitably stumble into their trap.
Some claim to offer additional services such as ‘a fast-track processing’. But as HM Revenue & Customs points out, this is usually nonsense. The official route is almost always the fastest.
So why is Google accepting payments from such an unscrupulous bunch? On June 3, 2013, this paper wrote an article entitled: ‘Copycat firms that fool the public — with Google’s help.’
We told how rogue websites were using Google to cash in on people searching for everything from passports to fishing licences.
In the years that followed, the internet giant has pledged repeatedly to clamp down on these types of sites.
Yet here we are six-and-a-half years later raising the same concerns, with little progress made.
In fact, if our experience trying to alert Google to the copycat sites we found is anything to go by, I’d suggest we may have gone backwards.
It has proved unbelievably difficult to get any answers from the world’s most comprehensive search engine.
Part of the problem is that, according to the law, not all copycat firms are clear-cut scammers. But letting them off the hook just because they admit in the small print that customers can get the same service for free elsewhere is not good enough.
Until Google eradicates these sites, ordinary people will continue to be ripped off.
If you have been caught out by a copycat website, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Money Mail, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT.
Switching energy supplier can save you hundreds of pounds — but boy do they make you work for every penny.
It has been 47 days since I used a comparison website to switch to a cheaper tariff and I’m still waiting for my £173.56 credit balance to be refunded.
During this period my new supplier has sent me 12 emails, including a notification that my switch ‘was complete’ on November 7 and my first bill on November 29.
Assuming everything was in order, I was surprised to receive an email from my old provider, Utility Point, requesting meter readings ‘to make my next statement as accurate as possible’.
Uh oh. Following a 22-minute wait on hold and some vague excuses about not receiving a gas reading until last week, I was assured the refund would arrive within ten days.
This will take the total switching time to nearly two months, which just isn’t good enough.
Under an industry guarantee, it should take 21 days to switch, including a 14-day cooling-off period. Your new supplier is also supposed to do everything for you, such as supplying your old provider with meter readings so they can calculate a final bill.
Industry figures suggest my rather tedious experience is not an anomaly, with switching complaints now the number-one reason customers contact the Energy Ombudsman.
If you’re struggling to change provider, let us know.
Finally, yet another reminder of why we are not ready to be a cashless society — and why it’s sensible to still carry a few notes.
Money Mail reader Margaret, from Wakefield, says: ‘We went to a pub for a meal and were told it was cash only as their internet was down and the card readers wouldn’t work.
‘Luckily, we had enough cash on us to pay, but we saw two groups of people who had to leave because they didn’t have the cash.
I’m sure the pub lost a fair bit of money that night.’ Technology can, and does, fail regularly — as we saw again with TSB last month — so always be prepared.
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