06 Mar 2018
Members of a criminal gang that created copycat websites of key government departments and mislead consumers to pay more for services than they should have been sentenced to a total of more than 35 years.
The group defrauded the public out of over £37 million, making it one of the largest UK online crime cases, according to the National Trading Standards (NTS) which explained that they operated a number of ‘copycat websites’, impersonating official government services to sell passports, driving licences and other key documents for vastly inflated prices.
“These sites mimicked official websites run by eleven government agencies and departments and manipulated search engine results to appear more genuine, NTS explained, “they knowingly misled hundreds of thousands of consumers into paying more than they needed for a number of government services including new or replacement passports, visas, birth and death certificates, driving licences, driving tests, car tax discs and the London Congestion Charge.”
The gang also set up websites that mimicked the American, Turkish, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Sri Lankan official visa sites where travellers could apply and pay for electronic visas to visit those countries.
The illegal profits funded a glamorous lifestyle for the defendants, with extravagant spending on expensive cars and luxury holidays, the NTS explained.
Mike Andrews from the National Trading Standards eCrime Team said: “This was a crime motivated by greed. This group defrauded people so they could enjoy a luxury lifestyle. They showed no regard for the unnecessary costs they imposed on their victims – I would say they treated them with contempt.
“I would urge people to always use the GOV.UK website when looking to apply for any kind of government service such as a passport, driving licence or EHIC card. Search engines may seem the easiest route but searching using the GOV.UK website is the safest way of ensuring you do not fall victim to a copycat website.”
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