News Column

Personal finance: Copycat site proves taxing for motorists

June 8, 2014

Harriet Meyer



Motorists risk wasting money when applying for a new tax disc after it emerged that a near-identical website to the official one is cropping up in search results. The copycat site dupes users out of pounds 40 for a "service fee", and appeared at the top of a search as a Google advert until Observer Cash stepped in last week. However, the site still appears under several urls when typing in "tax disc renewal", including taxdisc-direct.co.uk and taxdisc-directgov.org.uk. The government makes no charge on its site, taxdisc.direct.gov.uk, aside from the cost of the tax disc.

Adverts for copycat sites have often appeared when users search for a range of government services, from renewing passports to filing tax returns. Google has now taken down the majority of these amid pressure over the ease with which companies can advertise.

However, when Cash called last week to flag the copycat site, Google claimed it met its criteria. This includes categorically stating that it is not affiliated with the DVLA or official gov.uk site - despite this appearing in tiny text at the top right-hand side of the page.

Hours later a spokesman called to say the site would be removed. He said: "We have a set of policies which govern what ads we do and do not allow on Google. Our "sale of free items and official services" policy makes it very clear that we do not allow the promotion of sites that charge for products or services that are otherwise available for free, unless they clearly mention that the original service is available for free elsewhere, provide a working link to the official source where they can get the free service and accurately represent the added value they are charging for. If we discover sites that are breaking this policy we will take appropriate action."

Consumer groups say Google must do more to clamp down on these sites. Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, says: "For too long copycat sites have got away with misleading consumers into paying for services that should be free. We're glad that some action is being taken but we need to see more enforcement taken against these sites along with a review of legislation to protect consumers."



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Source: Observer (UK)


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