Fake UK Government Websites: How to Avoid Phishing Scams
When you need to find information about UK government services, the first place that you will usually begin your search is online. Until a few years ago, government websites were all separate.
But in 2012, the Government Digital Service launched Gov.uk as a single website where all government information and services could be found. Now many services — but not all — can be found on this website.
However, if you go to a search engine and type in a service that you are looking for, things are not always that clear. You may well find websites or ads offering popular services for a fee, when in reality you can get the same service from the official government site for free or for a lot less.
That's where a service where you can find out exactly who is behind the website before you fill in any details can be invaluable.
What Are the Risks?
The risks of landing on a fake UK government website can be serious. A This Is Money article highlighted some of the scams that these so-called copycat websites carry out.
Often they charge exorbitant fees to simply pass on information that you could easily provide to the real website for free. For example, sometimes people are charged as much as £50 for filling out forms online.
Common scams involve services such as passport renewals, driving licence renewals and the EHIC card. In the case of the EHIC card, you may be charged for the card when actually it is completely free.
Sometimes you may call up the website for information and end up being charged £1 a minute when you should not be paying anything.
Another risk is posed by phishing scams. These often involve emails that look official and encourage you to visit a fake website where you may then enter personal or financial information. Not only can these cost you money, but they can also pose a risk of identity theft.
There is a list of example email scams at the HMRC website, including a tax information newsletter complete with a virus in an attachment, and a fake HMRC email claiming users have overpaid their tax bill.
Spotting the Fake Sites
Online, the thing to remember is that looks can be deceiving. Fake sites may be designed to look exactly like the real sites, and this alone can fool you even if you are aware of such scams.
Things to look out for include:
The suffix: Many fake government websites will use variations of gov.uk or other official-looking text.
Small print: Sometimes fake sites will contain small print saying that they are not an official government website, but this information is often hidden or difficult to find.
Hosting details: Even if a website looks genuine, you can easily find out who is behind it by checking the hosting details using a tool like ours.
How to Use Our Tool
With the WIHT tool, you can get a good idea whether you are in the right place no matter which website you are on. If you land on a website following a search online, you can simply type the domain name into the search box on our homepage:
You will then instantly see all the details you need about who is hosting the site so you can make an informed decision.
Our web host lookup tool has been designed to be simple to use. All you have to do is copy in the URL of the website (e.g. Gov.uk) and you will be presented with all the information regarding who is behind the site.
To get the full information about who is behind the website:
Click on the 'Click Here' link next to 'WHOIS'
If the site is part of Gov.uk, you should see that the registrant is 'UK Cabinet Office'
The registrant type is 'UK Government Body'
The address is Government Digital Service at Aviation House
These details should be the same for any page of the official government website if it is part of Gov.uk.
However, be aware that not all government services are included yet on the Gov.uk site. In this case, the above details may be different. However, by checking through the details you should still be able to get a good idea of whether it is an official site or a fake site.
Even people who know about these scam sites can be fooled by convincing websites. A very quick search using our tool will reveal details about who is behind the site and will give you greater peace of mind.
Go Directly to Gov.UK
Another option when you are searching for government services is to simply type in Gov.uk into the address bar in your browser.
This is the site where most of the government information and services can be found, and from here you can search the site, removing the risk that you can end up clicking on a misleading website.
What to Do If You Find a Misleading Site
The government is trying to get these fake websites removed so that people don't end up getting scammed. It has even launched the #StartAtGOVUK campaign, and it is working with consumer organisations to try and raise awareness of misleading websites.
If you do search in the search engines and you find a website offering government services that is not Gov.uk, you can report it. Check with our tool to find out who the real host is, and then you can report it to ActionFraud.police.uk and Google.
Never Leave It To Chance
Whether you are trying to find a government service or any other information online, always make sure you are on the right website. Make it a habit to go straight to a tool like ours before inserting your information or financial details to ensure you do not fall victim to a scam.