Copycat Websites – Beware of the Googly

Most people are probably aware that Googling has become synonymous with Internet searches in much the same way as hoovering did with vacuum cleaning.

A googly on the other hand is a cricketing term not to be confused with Google.  It is a delivery bowled by a right arm leg spin bowler to a right handed batsman which moves in the opposite direction to that which the batsman might have expected after it has pitched.  The bowler achieves this effect by sleight of hand

So, a googly has no connection with Google.  However, in the same way that the googly is designed to deceive the batsman into thinking the ball will do one thing whereas it does something else, Google and other search engines can be manipulated to lead you to websites which pretend to be something they are not.  This is how it works.  Suppose you want to renew an official document like a driving licence or passport.  The scammers analyse Internet search traffic to identify the key words people use when searching for official sites.

They can then pay the search engine company to place their copycat websites at the top of the results page when the key words are used to search.  These sites are very convincing appear to be official and because they appear at the top of the search results page they are the first links many people click on.  Using the copycat websites could cost you money because they sometimes charge for completing or checking applications.  You can also be at risk of identity theft or that your personal details could be passed on to a third party for marketing or other purposes.

The scammers don’t just use search engines- you might come across copycat website in an online advert to a social media post.

Over 5,000 complaints were made to Citizens Advice last year and 700 were made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The most commonly reported complaints related to tax returns, driving licences, European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) and passports.  Some people paid for EHICs which are free on  for example

How to avoid being scammed by a copycat website

1.   If you need an official website, for example, to apply fora passport or driving licence or car tax disc, applying for a driving test or want to pay a bill like Council Tax, go to the website and search there.

2.   If you use a search engine, be aware of the difference between paid Internet search results (adverts) and free results (apparently, 42% of us can’t tell them apart)

3.     Look out for the fine print – although a copycat site may well contain a disclaimer saying it is not an official site this is not likely to obvious.

You can report online scams to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.  You can also call your CAB on 0844 848 7969 to report copycat websites

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