back to article Google kills copycat TfL congestion charge payment ads

Google has purged copycat Transport for London congestion charge payment ads from its search engine following complaints. It comes after Mountain View was recently told by the UK government to weaken the threats posed by unofficial websites that offer tax return services to unsuspecting Brits. According to the BBC, TfL had …


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  1. Enrico Vanni

    Great. Now they need to do the same for the fake NHS EHIC card application sites. First three hits on Google for these are still sponsored scam sites.

    1. jai

      And if the scam sites are sponsored, then surely Google can trace them back to whoever owns them, and pass the information on to whoever is investigating such fraud? just taking an advert/site offline just means whoever is behind it is inconvenienced for a few minutes while they have to set it up again under a different name.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        The problem is that many of these sites aren't fradulent, they're just opportunists. If you've ever applied for a business visa you'll know that for some countries it's a complex and expensive process. There are perfecty legitimate companies offering "concierge" type of services to help, and they can be really useful at checking documents and forms, and generally saving time. Their fee of £50 or so is well worth it when you're paying £500 for a visa.

        It's not easy to distinguish between them, and the chancers who'll charge £25 "commission" to get you an EHIC card, or an ESTA, both of which are easy to do online and cost far less than £25. Such companies aren't illegal, though, so censoring their position in search results must be a grey area.

        1. Gav

          Where the line lies

          This is the problem. Why should legitimate businesses be punished by google, and why should it be up to google to do the punishing?

          There are legitimate businesses. Some people hate form filling. Some people have serious difficulties with form filling (like literacy problems, English as a second language, etc). Some forms are complicated, and getting a person who's correctly filled out hundreds of them already could save you a lot of time and hassle.

          What should be happening is that government agencies should refuse to deal with applications that have come through companies that are not adding any value to the process, or are misleading people into believe that they have an official capacity. And the most blatant of those should be charged with fraud.

          1. Keep Refrigerated

            Re: Where the line lies

            All good points but what should actually be happening is that actually revamp their web services to make it easier to navigate, find, apply and pay for things online.

            Seriously the only one I think has got better in recent years is the DVLA, but - for example - having to deal with HMRC portal is a true nightmare experience, and has changed very little in at least 6 years.

            There's no reason they couldn't structure their web portals to make it not only more Google friendly, but make it more like Google, Wikipedia and other modern content providers in providing relevant information, in a simple, understandable easy to navigate manor.

            1. Graham Marsden

              I agree, but be careful...

              ... Yes, there are scam sites out there who will try to rip people off by charging a fee for simply forwarding on data, but the flip side is, for instance, the business that a friend of mine runs.

              She sorts out US Visa applications which is something you can do yourself, but she does it for well known celebrities, pop bands and so on and it's quicker and simpler for them to pay her to do the work rather than spend time trying to sort out a dozen or twenty Visas by themselves. This also means that, sometimes, she has to travel to London to get to the US Embassy when it opens in the morning to sort out a problem for someone whose plane is leaving later that day.

              So, yes, we need to do something about the scammers, but not at the cost of catching legitimate businesses in an overly big net.

          2. Snake Plissken

            Re: Where the line lies

            Three things. First, the site in question doesn't just do form filling, but subsequently requests the photo/birth certificate etc etc before posting it on to the Passport Office.

            Second, the application doesn't go from the third party to the PO directly, so they can't block it.

            Third, the site has a disclaimer (big enough) but presents the official PO phone number as a helpline and plenty of official logos to present the appearance of legitimacy.

            I agree that Google can't do too much about companies that are pushing up against the boundaries of the law but rather than punishing those, Google could prioritise the "real" sites in searches/advertising.

        2. Bert 1

          They are all at it

          Even the Post office will charge you for "check and send" services for your passport application.

          This does not help the argument that SOME are fraudulent.

          How is Google supposed to tell the difference?

        3. solo

          The problem is although the ads are marked sponsored prominently, it's user's fault to trust an advertising system as an advising company. It's the laziness only that even scanning the visible area of the 1st page of the results seem too much waste of time for them.

          Google for years promoted this laziness by using the phrase that suggested to use ENTER instead of click on the Search button to make the search faster.

    2. Allan 1
      Thumb Up


      I nearly fell for one of the EHIC scam sites, and paid the £25 for an EHIC last year.

      If it wasn't for a Dutch friend telling me that the NHS EHIC's are actually free. Knowing they were free, I eventually found the proper EHIC application site via NHS Direct of all places.

      So yeah, Google need to deindex the fake EHIC sites also.

      1. VinceH

        Re: Agreed

        "I nearly fell for one of the EHIC scam sites, and paid the £25 for an EHIC last year."

        I did fall for one some years ago, though IIRC it was £8. Like you, I didn't realise at the time that they are available for free. Unfortunately, nobody was on hand to point that out to me.

        Which just goes to show, even we El Reg commentards aren't immune.

        "So yeah, Google need to deindex the fake EHIC sites also."


        1. Snake Plissken

          Re: Agreed

          Passport renewal ones, too. Father in law got done by one of those yesterday. (Thankfully they are aware of their responsibilities under Distance Selling Regulations and refunded immediately to avoid the publicity.)

          1. P. Lee Silver badge

            Re: Agreed

            >Passport renewal ones, too.

            In Australia we get stung by the passport office. AusPost has a monopoly on UK passport renewals and you aren't allowed to use the UK application site (there's a little tick box which says, "I'm applying in the UK") to complete the form and send it in.

            All they do is add a fat mark-up (I seem to think a couple of hundred dollars last time) and post it.

            I"m not bitter. Really.

    3. tfewster Silver badge

      I appreciate Google can't police the web and struggle to avoid automated suggested phrase completions without upsetting, e.g. Max Mosley.

      But ads are their core business, and they must be aware of the scam sites without needing to be told. A conspiracy to defraud charge and seizing their assets as proceeds of crime should help them focus on their responsibilities.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "[W]hen we are notified "

    In what sentence would the google bod have said "<space>hen we are notified" ? Are hen's used by google?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: [W]

      Your grocer's apostrophe balances out the omission.

      1. Gav

        Very rare

        Not a grocer's apostrophe. Actually a missing word and reference to the hen's teeth that are used to count the number of times google moves swiftly to remove adverts that earn them money.

        Though that would actually be hens' teeth. So never mind... getting coat --->

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Very rare @Gav

          I did debate originally ask, "Hen's what?" but then it became a question of whether it should've been "... a hen's <something>" or whether Hen was somone in particular and hadn't been capitalised and decided it wasn't worth it :)

    2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: [W]

      Hens (or at least, some variety of pigeons : they don't specify the sex) have been used by google since the early days.

      1. Pigeon

        Mine of information

        I always wondered how Google search works. Well done.

  3. LesB

    Space hens

    Otherwise known as astrochickens, perhaps.

    I was going to say something obvious and boring about the quote being taken from a longer sentence, where the "w" would presumably have been lower case, but you'd have stopped reading that by now.

  4. Frankee Llonnygog

    Google has a "strict set of policies"

    to govern the types of adverts the company allows to appear on its search service.

    The policies being: your ad can only appear if you pay money to Google. Google is very strict about the authenticity of that money

  5. Crisp

    If those are scam sites...

    Shouldn't the UK government prosecute them? Maybe put them in jail for being naughty and taking money under false pretences?

    That would send a stronger message than just removing them from Google searches.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If those are scam sites...

      Read some of the posts above - they're not (in general certainly) fraudulent or claiming to be official sites. If you look at the sites themselves they say quite clearly, generally in the middle of a large paragraph of tedious prose, that they're not official sites. That's why they haven't been shut down. They rely on the fact that people don't read the site properly and just click through to the "order now" pages.

    2. qwertyuiop

      Re: If those are scam sites...

      But they're not taking money under false pretences! They offer you a site where, for a fee, you can complete your details which they will submit to the relevant goevrnment department on your behalf. They take your money and they do what they say, so in what way is it false pretences? You have the choice of using them or using the official website; you get the same result in both cases, it's just that one is a lot cheaper.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending them. They are preying on the gullible and less observant and I thyink we should find a way to close them down, but nothing they are doing is illegal unfortunately. Some of them do come close though where the design of their site closely mimics the colours and fonts used by the official sites. Is there no possibility of prosecuting them for "passing off"?

  6. Rol Silver badge

    I have a "strict set of policies"

    1... Never, ever click on the links to the right on a Google search

    2... Never ever click on the first four links of a Google search

    3... When I search for "wotsit" company, click on the link that has wotsit at the start of the address and not one that is prefixed with "info\" or such like.

    One thing that should be made compulsory: If I search for "Renew Passport" or "NHS", then the first link returned should point to the official site and not some chancers, opportunistic, scam site, no matter how much they have paid to be there.

  7. expat_nl

    UK passport office does a fine job scamming without needing external companies

    UK passport renewal Sir? That'll be 72 quid from the UK.

    Oh, I see you are applying from outside the UK? We'll you still have to send the application to the same address in the UK and use the same form, but we are going to charge you 148 quid instead.

    Was so annoyed I even called them to find out why the price was double. "More administration" was the vague but predictible response I received.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: UK passport office does a fine job scamming without needing external companies

      You could have used a local consulate, as I did in Rome and have it issued locally.

      They still charge you double though, with the usual bullshit excuses so it's no cheaper.

  8. DJO Silver badge

    A fixable problem

    Legislative opportunity here: Make it an offence to charge for a free service without providing a link to the free service on your web page.

    So if the service you provide has genuine value simplifying whatever process you are charging for then people will use it, if it's just a rip-off they wont.

    1. a well wisher

      Re: A fixable problem

      Some of them already do provide the links to the official service - but still go on making loads a money somehow!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DVLA sites also.

    This is the same for the DVLA. My other half got her provisional driving license and got duped by a site pretending to be the DVLA. The site in question was so similar to the real one that it is clear they are trying to deceive people into thinking they are in the right place.

  10. Superavi


    No one worried about Bing users? No one? Ok, i'm off.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Bing?

      you put an extra s in your statement there

      No one worried about Bing user?

      There corrected it for you

  11. PotHunter

    ITunes too

    I wasn't paying attention and clicked on the first link when searching for iTunes. Took me hours to get rid of the malware it installed.

    1. Anonymous IV

      Re: ITunes too

      So you did click on the correct link, then!

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