Copycat website warning issued by Trading Standards

Northumberland County Council’s Public Protection Service is again warning residents to be on their guard and to look out for so called ‘copycat’ websites when carrying out online transactions.

By Ian Smith
Tuesday, 29 January, 2019, 13:00
The headquarters of Northumberland County Council

These websites can appear genuine and give the illusion they are official or authorised when this is not the case.

Previously warnings have been issued about incidents where people have unwittingly used a copycat website to order new passports, book driving tests or renew car tax discs, all at significantly higher costs than would be incurred using the official site.

The renewed warning comes after Northumberland residents unwittingly ordered their ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) applications in order to allow them to enter the USA.

The usual fee for the ESTA application is $14 however one business is asking for an additional $85 per application. Although the website does display this additional charge, it is only shown in small text of the final page for payment and is hidden away in the terms and conditions.

The website does also provide the official government website (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/) but this too is hidden away.

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Trading Standards also advise consumers to ensure that when booking their holiday that they use travel companies that are ABTA Members. Holidays booked through an ABTA travel company benefit from support, protection and their expertise. Members must comply with ABTA’s Code of Conduct and have an Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme if problems cannot be resolved. All package holidays are financially protected so that if the travel company fails, consumers can continue with their holiday as planned or get their money back. You can check if a company is an ABTA Member at abta.com/abta-member-search.

Coun John Riddle, cabinet member for Planning, Housing and Resilience said: “The majority of consumers who have used copycat websites are believed to have accessed them through the use of a search engine. Care should therefore be taken to ensure a website relates to the company or official government department and that statements and notices on the websites are very read carefully.”

Philip Soderquest, head of Housing and Public Protection, said: “Residents should be cautious of using the website that appears at the top of their search list as it is not always the genuine one. These companies pay a large amount of money to appear at the top, and this is why many people get caught out.”

Members of the public are urged to report any suspected copycat websites to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service by calling 03454 04 05 06.