Tax return application websites warning issued by Trading Standards
The advice comes after officials received scores of complaints from residents about websites which can charge up to £800 on top of genuine government charges or charge for unnecessary processing services when official government sites process matters free.
January is when many people want to get their tax returns to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). In the past two weeks Oxfordshire Trading Standards have received 13 complaints about HMRC application websites which were wrongly believed to be official government sites.
Unawareness that sites are unofficial
Often internet users do not know the site they are using is unofficial unless they get to the fees page, where charges quoted are often far higher than those on government sites.
Since October last year 19 similar complaints have also been made to Trading Standards about driving licence application sites and 15 about ones that deal with passport applications.
Educate and warn
Kate Davies, Team Leader for Oxfordshire County Council's Trading Standards Public Protection Team, said: "We want to educate and warn the public about websites which look to charge far more than the official government sites do for dealing with things like tax return applications.
"Now is a time of year when many residents are submitting tax returns, and they could be easily duped into parting with more money than they have to by using these sites which may give the impression that they are official.
"People should ensure that the website's address has gov.uk at the end, as most official government ones have this. They should also read carefully what the website says as many do actually state that they are unofficial and that they are a 'checking' service if their information is read carefully.
"Owners of sites can also pay to have their site as one of the first that appears when somebody uses a search engine, so the advice is that people shouldn't just click on and use the first one that comes up - check it out to ensure it's a genuine site and not a copycat one."
When websites are deemed to be misleading Trading Standards or the Advertising Standards Authority can challenge those businesses that are involved.
Other copycat sites which Trading Standards are aware of include those dealing with London congestion charges, European Health Insurance Cards and foreign travel visa applications.