Copycat Website Scams: All cats don’t have to be grey in the dark

Copycat Website Scams

Copycat websites offer processing services that are given much more affordable or cost-free thru official government websites. Moreover, they charge a considerable premium for proffering those services. For instance, scouting around the internet to apply for a passport, changing the driver’s license address, booking a driver theory test, calling up business websites proffering verification, reviewing, and forwarding fee applications. Such businesses’ advertisements may actually be conspicuous in search results. Thus, Copycat Website Scams are a real threat, especially in the impending Post-Pandemic Age as well. As the economy limps back to normal, it will still have scammers biting its tail – simply because of the enhanced virtual existence that will keep supplying easy prey to savvy predators. 

Copycat Website Scams- deliberately hazy websites 

While it is undoubtedly legit to proffer reviewing and forwarding services, business websites ought to come clean as to their non-affiliation with the Government. Besides giving a clear indication that the same services these are offering can be had from governmental agencies for free/at affordable cost. If these businesses have grounds to believe they are actually giving clients better value, theory ought to illuminate such points in no uncertain terms. No beatings about the bush – but a clear enunciation from providers  why their reviewing/forwarding services are more purposeful, and outcome-orientated, than that obtained via gov.uk channels.

Sadly, frequently just such forthrightness is not forthcoming from these adept entrepreneurs. Instead, they permit a haziness to remain between their services and website, vis-a-vis official advice via official channels. Apparently these Wild West copycat website businesses think that misleading and unfair practices are not prohibited per the CPRs or the consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, administered thru criminal and civil courts. 

Copycat Website Scams – we should know better in this ‘second wave’

Only a few years back, copycat website scams had posed serious challenges, with clients griping that many websites were mimicking official sites to bilk them of money, paying inessential amounts for vastly overrated services. Frequently, clients, post search, were deluded into thinking they were actually on a governmental site till they were tellingly asked to cough up a  not inconsiderable processing fee. 

After a lull of 3-4 years, copycat website scams are raging across the UK virtual landscape. Scammers are back in force, especially focussing on the stupendously successful vaccine roll-out, exploiting the government inability to reach out fully to the weakest. However, not only the ederly or the reclusive, but every Joe Bloggs can be susceptible too, if their vigilance hygiene is lethargic. That’s why, awareness – and mindful awareness at that – is an absolute given. 

What are copycat websites exactly?

It cannot be gainsaid that proffering reviewing and forwarding services with respect to official governmental services – for instance, passport issual and ancillary services – is potentially extremely beneficial. However, when said governmental agencies themselves offer such services and attendant clarification, private business websites offering consultations really beg the question. How are these copycat websites offering better value? When they themselves fail to answer this, they can be labelled ‘scams’. They are not even offering better’ value for money.  Whatever they are offering can be had from official sources at a fraction of the cost or downright free. 

Must copycat website necessarily be scams? 

Being a copycat is not illegal. A website can legitimately offer advice on official procedures and processes that affect Joe Bloggs. However, when such providers fail to provide even a clear demarcation of their identity vis a vis the corresponding governmental official website they are trying so hard to make lucid – their business objective becomes clear as mud. 

With a clear intent to confuse ordinary consumers, copycat websites adopt official websites’ most important outer trappings, with the pretense of some sort of delegated autonomy. But, per relevant law, it is absolutely illegal to mislead consumers on purpose.in the same breath, defrauding the ordinary citizen , bilking him of funds after pre-meditated misrepresentation, is definitely illegal. 

Copycat Website Scams: their (shady) ways of business

We have Copycat Website Scams when instant messaging, phishing emails, or social media posts get a possible victim to visit a copycat website. Aiding deception facilitation, scammers come up with a near faithful replica of a governmental website. Then there’s the tried and tested strategy concerning the (purported) HMRC email, carrying the tax refund intimation. The client, thus encouraged, has little hesitation in licking the link in the said email. Once he has clicked the link, Joe Bloggs finds himself in what he erroneously believes to be an official website. Here, he’s fleeced of his personal and financial details. 

Clone sites – a close cousin of copycat websites

Clone site scams take undue advantage of people’s faith in famous brands by studiously mimicking such websites. Ir’s surprising so many clients cannot make out the difference between the real McCoy and the ersatz site. When clone sites and copycat sites make their appearance through Google adverts, many clients fall for the device hook, line, and sinker. 

Financial services and products can be brand cloned too. The FSCS or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme advises that clients must be aware that criminals clone famous financial service brands, producing fake adverts, websites, and documents. False pierce comparison websites and adverts are harnessed to reach people searching for ISAs, pensions, and suchlike. 

How do clone sites and copycat websites get folk to transfer funds?

Using the FSCS logo or the protected badge sans official permission to deceive targets into thinking non-existent products are protected. Masquerading as FSCS employees, some scammers offer compensation for losses the clients had never suffered or for products that the FSCS does not protect , or that are plainly imaginary. They inveigle people into paying for compensation that shall never arrive, by accepting a fee for a claim they will allow to lapse, for a completely imaginary loss.

Per Action Fraud, more than GBP 78 million was lost courtesy brand cloning scams last year. When we take in the average figure lost by Joe Bloggs – GBP 45000+ – on the average, we see the magnitude of the problem. Last year, the FCA issued 1000+ scam warnings. 40% of these were about cloned sites . 

New Plague-Proliferation of Pandemic Copycat Website scams 

Scammers have been adroit at taking advantage of the COVID 19 Pandemic. For instance, there’s been a vaccination scam concerned with sending a phishing text message, ‘informing’ the recipient that their vaccination eligibility is confirmed, linking the text to a fake NHS page , which again asks the unsuspecting client for personal details. The hapless victim is not spared his financial details. Then there have been scams where folk think they are ordering PPE equipment that shall remain undelivered. Finally, there are scams concerned with fake testing kits. 

The government had to undertake consumer protection public messaging to inform the public of the expected eruption of scams , given the consideration that scammers were likely to take the average of the vaccine roll-out. 

It has also been generally acknowledged that scammers have adapted to the increase in online shopping and remote working by masquerading aas parcel delivery company employees or or e-commerce and  broadband provider employees. 

How best to identify a copycat website scams? 

A consumer body ‘Which’ scam investigation disclosed that they fool 50% of those who come upon  a copycat website. Spotting a copycat website becomes easy with the following tips – 

  • Is the website a paid search engine advertisement? These are the boxed adverts  shown at search engine result pages’ top. The official site is frequently the first/second non-paid-for site that shows up beneath the ads. 
  • Have you read the homepage attentively? Then, before filling out a form, take the time to go through the website’s homepage. There’s a strong likelihood of there being stated there that the website is not affiliated with the official website. 
  • Web address – ‘.org’ is not a guarantee of a website’s authenticity. However, for our purposes, a web address showing ‘gov.uk’ is a guarantee of genuineness. 
  • https:// versus http:// – the s at the end of http denotes the encryption enabled status of the website. So naturally, websites that hold your financial details cannot be without encryption. 
  • Trading Standards advise clients to search for government services by going to gov.uk. This is intuitive, and failsafe (dare we say: ‘scamsafe?’).

‘Once bitten twice shy’ Copycat website scams – immediate response

Copycat website scams – or even scams concerning cloned sites scams – ought to be immediately reported to Action Fraud. From there, info will be passed on to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. All such reporting adds to the body of collected data that does impact future investigations. 

The Citizens Advice online portal leads you to Trading Standards, wherein you may lodge your complaint regarding fraud that has trade implications. You could report the copycat/cloned website to the appropriate official government website. 

Conclusion 

Copycat website scams can be stopped dead in their tracks if you, the consumer, are fully aware of the tell-tale signs of difference between the real McCoy and ersatz websites. You have to be aware of what makes ‘gov.uk’ sites unique. We cannot reiterate this sufficiently: if you are seeking guidance asto government services and products, you would be best served by searching for the same at a ‘gov.uk’ website.

Using Google or Bing to make such searches addles the brain. Companies like Facebook and Google do not check if the adverts spreading their word thru their agency are lying or telling the truth. While talks are underway to bring these companies within the ambit of such responsibility, development will need time. Back at the ranch – it’s ‘caveat emptor’ all the way. Still, checking copycat and cloned sites is not difficult. A dose of vigilance training will do us all a power of good! 

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