A number of unofficial, online “checking” services are charging people to have their passport applications checked online. They use information that is free from official Government websites to check that passport applications are filled out correctly and then charge a hefty fee for this service.
These sites often look like official Government websites and appear near to the top of search engine results. Unsuspecting consumers are therefore led to believe that they are paying for the full cost of processing and submitting their passport application, only to find that official fees are still outstanding when they go to collect their passport.
Stephen recently visited the Passport Office in Newport with Home Office Immigration Minister, Mark Harper MP. During the visit, Stephen heard of many cases of people unwittingly paying third party firms for free information to renew their passports. In some cases, customers’ passports were not passed on to the Passport Office, despite being charged for a checking service.
Speaking from Westminster, Stephen Crabb said:
“As people increasingly rely on the internet to access services, some third parties have taken advantage of people looking to save time by doing their admin online. The branding and advertising of these websites looks very legitimate and it has clearly been very easy for firms to make a profit from charging for information that is available free online.
“When I visited the Passport Office in Newport, I heard the personal stories of countless people who had fallen victim to the scam. Many had paid out hundreds of pounds to renew family passports, only to find that they had in fact paid for free information and that the official fees were outstanding.”
The Government is now working closely with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to ensure these sites do not mislead the customer into believing they are dealing with an official site. They have imposed strict fines on the sites and have warned companies to provide an up-front message that they are not acting on behalf of HM Passport Office. HM Passport Office will also make a formal complaint to the ASA about sites that are continuing to deceive consumers.
Stephen added: “I’ve heard first-hand from constituents the real difficulty and distress these scam advice firms have caused. It is unacceptable that these companies should be able to charge for free information and trick people out of their hard-earned money. I am pleased that the Government is taking tough action by fining these firms and forcing them to state clearly that they are not an official website.”
If you need to renew or apply for a new passport, use HM Passport Office website, which has all the information required to make your application.
Alternatively, your local Post Office will be able to advise you on the application process.