Saturday, 7 June 2014

Copycat adverts has motorists taken for a ride


Yesterday the Observer reported on yet another scam aimed at getting money from unsuspecting consumers, this time involving car tax discs. They were complaining about a company who have been running a very near identical website to the government site which deals with issuing vehicle tax discs. What was happening, before the Observer stepped in, was that customers searching on line for renewal of tax discs, got an advert that appeared at the top of the Google search engine which linked to a near identical site to the official government one. Once on the site, consumers were asked to pay for a £40 “service fee” to renew their disc.

Official government site does not charge a service fee to consumers

On the official site taxdisc.direct.gov.uk there is no such charge other than the cost of the disc itself, and now Google have taken down the copycat advert following complaints. However, the Observer did point out that up until yesterday, this unofficial site was still cropping up in URL searches when people typed in “tax disc renewal”. The sites to avoid are the ones that say taxdisc-direct.co.uk and taxdisc-directgov.org.uk Although quite frankly, for people in a hurry or not sure what they are looking for these last two would look as though you have landed on the genuine article.
The money section of the Observer did ask Google, when it flagged up this latest problem, how such copycat sites and adverts are allowed to post their details and Google said in this instance, the advert met their criteria. This meant they declared specifically the site was not in any way linked with the DVLA or affiliated with the official government sites. When the reporter checked apparently this was stated but in very tiny text at the top right hand side of the page. (He probably felt the same as Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy who had to hunt down demolition plans to his home at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused loo with a “Beware of the Leopard” sign on the door.) Still Google did call back several hours later to say that the site would be removed which is a blessing for all motorists but it had taken a certain amount of legwork from a national paper to highlight this problem.

Consumers warned to be vigilant and aware of copycat adverts on line

As a regular user of search engines this is yet another red flag that has appeared on the radar when using the internet. Consumer group Which? have been saying for a long time that copycat advertisers have been getting away with misleading adverts which are costing consumer’s money for services that should be free of charge. The DVLA stated the government is working with the National Trading Standards, the Advertising Standards Authority and search engine providers in order to crack down on these people. But if they are out there advertising now, then this could be too late for many consumers.

Have you been taken in by a copycat advert? If so we want to know about it so we can raise awareness for others – let us know – we’re listening!

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