Five people were arrested last week after more than 5,700 people complained about copycat government websites which scam consumers into paying fees for documents such as passports and driving licences.
Over 5,000 people complained to Citizens Advice last year, with 700 more to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), after being tricked into parting with cash for services that are provided cheaper or free-of-charge through official government channels.
Following the arrests, which could see the operation of at least 25 copycat websites disrupted, the government has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the misleading websites that often use URLs that include fragments such as ‘govuk’, ‘directgov’.
The National Trading Standards Board (NTSB) said that it is “clamping down” on those who operate the fraudulent sites.
"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,” said Lord Toby Harris, chair of the NTSB.
“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.”
Jo Swinson, minister for consumer affairs, said the government would not let fraudsters get away with misleading consumers.
“It’s great that it’s becoming easier and more common to use the internet to order official documents such as passports or tax discs, but people should be aware of rogue websites that are out there trying to exploit them and take their hard earned cash and even put them at risk of identity theft.
“The enforcement action which the National Trading Standards eCrime team has taken demonstrates the Government’s commitment to tackling these scammers. We will not let them get away with misleading consumers.”
The executive director at consumer watchdog Which? Richard Lloyd, called for those who had been duped to get a full refund of the money they were misled into paying.