Copycat services are still being offered in place of official services provided by government departments and local authorities, but with a difference: the copycat service is more expensive, not always completely legal, and seldom offers any added value above and beyond the official services available. Effort have been made over a number of years to address this issue but new services and sites continue to emerge.
These types of Copycat Services are different to services delivered through trademark infringement and passing off, as the genuine services are still needed to deliver the service required by the customer. Using a passport application as an example, the Copycat Service would not make and deliver the physical passport, but would act as an expensive intermediary. Instead of the customer paying £50 and applying directly, the Copycat service could charge £100 for the service and apply on behalf of the customer while taking a healthy profit from every transaction.
A really important point to consider is the quantity of personal information required in order to make such applications, and this data being handed over to Copycat Services has the potential to create a whole world of pain.
This should not be confused with added value services such as the Post Office Check and Send Service, where application forms are reviewed by Post Office staff before being sent to HM Passport Office for processing. This service is advertised as an added extra and applicants are able to make an informed choice. This should also not be confused with Visa agents who offer similar added value services such as making sure all the paperwork is in order, or by visiting the consulate to process paperwork on behalf of customers. With copycat services, applicants are generally manipulated into believing they are using a genuine service.
UK Government services have domain names which end with ‘.gov.uk’ and will not be links from paid advertising. Visit https://www.gov.uk for details of all available services. The following are samples of direct links.
- Passport Applications: https://www.gov.uk/browse/abroad/passports
- Driving Licence Applications: https://www.gov.uk/browse/driving/driving-licences
- Universal Credit: https://www.gov.uk/browse/benefits/universal-credit
- Land Registry: http://www.landregistry.gov.uk/home