Police have raided four addresses around the UK, making several arrests in a nationally co-ordinated probe into ‘copycat websites’ which imitate online services that are provided by the Government such as filing a Tax Return or renewing a passport. The raids were carried out as a result of an investigation by the National Trading Standards eCrime team into the sites, which dupe users into parting with their money for services which can be obtained for cheaper or free through official Government channels.
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police, where one of the arrests was within their jurisdiction said:[quote] “Police supported trading standards carrying out a warrant. A 43 year old man was arrested on suspicion of fraud by false representation. The operation was carried out by the eCrime team with police support.” [/quote]
Police in Hampshire also assisted with the raids in which a total of five people were arrested. The National Trading Standards Board said that four search warrants were issued on properties in England, which could see the operation of 25 copycat websites derailed.
More than 5000 complaints were made to Citizens Advice last year and 700 were made to the Advertising Standards Agency. The most common complaints related to drivers licences, tax returns, EHICs and passports.
Lord Toby Harris, chair of the National Trading Standards Board said that:[quote] “Our eCrime team is clamping down on the cyber fraudsters behind these websites and we are making it as difficult as possible for these online hoaxers to operate. We have been working with search engines such as Google and Bing to remove adverts from online search results and we continue to gather intelligence across the country to help tackle this issue. The misleading websites often use URLS that include fragments such as ‘govuk’ and ‘directgov’ or use names that make them appear as official providers of certain services. Design features are also incorporated to replicate the look of official websites.” [/quote]