‘BEWARE of copycats’ is the message from the county council’s trading standards team, following the rise in the number of fake websites offering government services for a fee.

The copycat websites offer services including passport renewal, driving licences, road tax discs, tax returns and European Health Insurance Cards.

They are often mistaken for official websites, as they offer services from government departments and look similar to government sites – and many use website tools to achieve high positions in search engines often ranking them higher than the official site.

Most of these copycat sites charge a premium for a service that is often provided much cheaper by government departments - or even for free.

Many people have mistakenly paid for a checking service, with some companies charging up to £60 per enquiry.

Any official application fee will then also be payable on top of this, so this can double the cost of applying for these documents.

Although these sites are not necessarily illegal they can lead the unwary into paying unnecessary fees.

Whether it’s an ad to renew your passport, have an application checked or book a driving test, a company should not imply they are affiliated with or that they’re offering an official service if that is not the case.

Make sure you don’t end up paying more than you have to by looking for ‘.gov’ in the web address. Also, take time to read information on the site carefully, and always check the terms and conditions if you’re making an online payment.