Contractors: Beware of misleading websites

Thursday 6 March 2014

Contractors, sole traders and limited companies should be on their guard against copycat websites.

The government has pledged money to help Trading Standards clamp down on sites pretending to be legitimate public services.

Consumer minister Jenny Willcott announced the funding this week (March 4th) and the support will be welcomed by those concerned about the activities of rogue traders, who pose a real threat to the general public and the self employed.

An additional £120,000 will be given this financial year to the National Trading Standards Board to investigate false websites and those that exaggerate the nature of the services they provide.

Those that hide the fact that people can get the same service for free or a cheaper rate from an official source will also come under fire.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills claims the money will better equip Trading Standards to identify, investigate and take enforcement action.

"Misleading websites which dupe people into believing they are using the official government channel need to be stopped in their tracks," Miss Willcott said. "The unfortunate reality is that a minority are exploiting those who are perhaps less web-savvy and we need to clamp down on them. These rogues that con people out of their hard earned cash need to know that the full glare of Trading Standards is now on them."

Lord Toby Harris, chair of the National Trading Standards Board, added that copycat websites are a "growing problem", both in terms of making people pay more than necessary and data protection.

"They often require those accessing them to share information that is personal and should be held securely," Lord Harris explained.

"This additional government support to help tackle this challenge is most welcome. By working together in this way we look forward to reducing consumer detriment and supporting legitimate businesses."

Trading Standards won't be in the fight against rogue traders alone either, and the government works with the Advertising Standards Authority, Which? and major search engines to clamp down on and raise awareness about misleading websites.

The self-employed are often targeted online under the guise of offering help and support. Indeed, recently HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)  warned contractors, limited companies and sole traders to be on the lookout for email phishing scams offering tax rebates.

In early February it was noted that communications were being sent around asking for bank account or credit card details in return for rebates.

During the three months to the end of January, taxpayers reported 23,247 phishing emails - a 47 per cent hike year-on-year.

Throughout 2013, over 91,000 scams were made known to HMRC and 1,476 websites shut down.

Gareth Lloyd, head of digital security at HMRC, said: "HMRC never contacts customers who are due a tax refund via email – we always send a letter through the post.

"If you receive an email claiming to be from HMRC which offers a tax rebate, please send it to phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and then delete it permanently. We can, and do, close these websites down, and do all we can to ensure taxpayers stay safe online by working with law enforcement agencies around the world to target the criminals behind these scams."


By Victoria McDonnell

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