Debra Williams column: Careful of the big passport rip-off
YOU would think that having been in business for more than 20 years and having run not one but three online companies, I would be the last person to fall foul of an internet rip-off!
But I am very embarrassed to say I did very recently fall for one, leaving me really cross.
It all started because my daughter's passport needed renewing. With only 25 days left on it and a holiday pending, I went online to find out how to renew it. I had some recollection of being able to fast track the application.
I ended up on the official sounding site. Here, they claim, you are able to apply for, update, renew or replace your passport using an online application form.
But the organisation behind the site simply collects your personal data and prints it onto the standard passport form you can pick up for free in any Post Office. It is one of many unofficial companies that trade in this way.
Naively, I assumed the details would be pre-checked. I attached the obligatory signed photos and sent them to the passport office thinking it could be fast tracked through the system.
I was wrong, of course. Speaking to a very nice gentleman at the official passport office he was outraged, but not surprised, that these companies are still trading.
They have nothing to do with the official Government organisation, as their website states, but only in small print and below the fold of the page.
Consequently, the official passport office had no record of my application and by using these agencies they do not process the forms any quicker. The official website is www.gov.uk. On there, they warn about these copycat websites that can appear to be the official agency, but charge a premium for their services.
Some companies are reported to charge up to £40. Going directly to HM Passport Office directly can save money and speed up receipt of an application. You can also contact them on 0300 222 0000.
A spokesperson for HM Passport Office said: "It's totally unacceptable that unscrupulous companies are continuing to trick people into paying for information which is available free of charge by HM Passport Office. We have already taken action with the Advertising Standards Agency to fine owners of rogue sites and ensure they do not use official logos or branding."
You will be pleased to know I have an appointment to attend HM Passport Offices in Newport next week where they will take my application and provide me with a replacement passport for my daughter within a few hours.
I guess there is no fool like an old fool but these types of websites undermine the true online entrepreneurs that I regularly meet and admire with their ideas and determination to use the internet as a distribution channel for their business enterprises.
You have been warned…