Published: 18th March 2014
A LEEDS MP is calling for a crackdown on the ‘legal scammers’ who con people into paying brokerage fees for free Government-run services.
Elmet and Rothwell Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke has raised the matter in Parliament after he himself was stung.
He is backing stronger measures which would prevent such companies jumping to the top of search engine lists, thereby diverting people from the actual Government websites and confusing consumers into thinking they have to pay – or pay more – for certain services like renewing passports and driving licences.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Shelbrooke said: “My constituents have raised with me the issue of scam sites dealing with passports and European health insurance cards, of which I, too, have been a victim.” He asked the Home Secretary what pressure she is putting on search engines “to stop that shoddy ripping off of hard-working people”.
Mr Shelbrooke said that he had been caught out himself while renewing a European Union card.
“I heard a radio advert which said you can apply to renew online,” he said. “I put it into Google and was taken to a site that charged £14. I then found out there was no charge attached to it at all.
“It’s literally just people who are acting a as a broker, but you don’t know.
“It can affect people renewing things like their driving licence or passport.
“They are not doing anything illegal but it is a scam, and people need to be aware.”
He said the sites were in effect copying and pasting people’s details into the relevant Government websites. “The only difference between these firms and payday lenders is that with the payday lenders, you know what you are getting. “With this, you don’t have to do it at all,” he said.
Responding to Mr Shelbrooke’s concerns, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “The Government are already taking action to tackle rogue websites which masquerade as legitimate Government services, exaggerating the services they provide or deliberately underplaying services that people can get for free or at a lower cost from official sources. The Government Digital Service is leading a cross-government exercise with organisations such as the Advertising Standards Authority, the National Trading Standards Board, Which? and search engines to raise awareness and ensure enforcement action is taken.
“Ministerial colleagues have also met Google to discuss the enforcement of its policies for advertising on its search results pages.”