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Joshua
Joshua, Lawyer
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 25358
Experience:  LL.B (Hons), Higher Prof. Dip. Law & Practice
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A firm has set up a website with a name (www.passport.uk.com)

Resolved Question:

A firm has set up a website with a name (www.passport.uk.com) and content that make it very easy to mistake for the official UK Passport Agency. They guide you through what you think is (say) passport renewal, asking all the expected questions, but it is actually a "service" of forwarding your details to the real Passport Agency, for an £80 fee.

Of course, they say "we make it clear" (in the small print) but because you think you are on the real Passport Agency site, you're not reading small print.

The web has acres of people complaining about how they (like me) were duped by this.

My question is: despite (no doubt) being inundated with people complaining that they were deceived into giving them money, they have kept their name and web content extremely easy to misinterpret, when it would be the work of a moment to fix their site so that this did not happen. (And almost nobody would want an £80 "service" that just duplicates what the Passort Agency itself does.) So: they very clearly intend many visitors to make this misinterpretation. Is that not, therefore, an offence of "Obtaining money by deceit"?
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Joshua replied 3 years ago.

Joshua :

Hello and thank you for your question. I will be very pleased to assist you. I'm a practicing lawyer in England with over 10 years experience.

Joshua :

Have you been misled into making payment for this service and wish to recover your money or do you ask for more general purposes please?

Customer:

For now, I'm just asking the question, in general.

Customer:

For now, I'm just asking the question.

Customer:

Oh great, the Enter key sends. Apologies! I wanted to add: "And it's quite a precise question: Their site design makes it easy to misinterpret, and once you have misinterpreted it you may very likely not be reading the smallprint just filling the forms, and they know this because people have been getting it wrong in huge numbers and giving them money by mistake, and the fact that they could prevent this instantly, trivially, but choose not to do, means that they intend more people to make this mistake, and that that is therefore obtaining money by deceit.

Joshua :

Thanks. No problem.

Joshua :

the government introduced The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 following new directive which I set of rules and laws which are designed to protect consumers from unfair trading practices. one unfair trading practice that is banned under the regulations are misleading acts which contain information or are designed to deceive the average customer or are likely to deceive the average customer. One example is marketing a product in such a way that is designed to create confusion or is likely to create confusion with the competitor's product.

Joshua :

Looking at the site you have kindly provided a link to, although they do state lower down the page that they are not the official passport website, arguably that information should be provided at the very top of the page in bold so that every user of the site is likely to see it. trading standards have the ability to bring prosecutions under the above regulations following complaints made to them by consumers. He was a consumer personally cannot prosecute under the above regulations however if you have entered into a contract with the company behind the website, you may be able to avoid the contract on the basis of mistake and recover your money

Joshua :

if you have not entered into a contract with the company but are merely concerned about the practices of the company, complained to trading standards under the above regulations would appear to be your initial approach. I believe in fact I have read coverage in the national press regarding companies such as this and the suspicion will be their action will be taken by trading standards following the publicity in due course though it is up to trading standards to prosecutions to bring and what actions to take under the same

Joshua :

is there anything above I can clarify for you?

Joshua :

If you have no further questions for now I should be very grateful if you would kindly take a moment to rate my service to you today. Your feedback is important to me. If there is anything else I can help with please reply back to me though.

Customer:

Thankyou very much - that's very clear. Just one (brief) addition, knowing little of the workings of the law: is there anything to stop me going direct to the police, and suggesting to them that (for the reasons I gave you) this firm are Obtaining Money By Deceit? Because lots of people online have complained that Trading Standards have got them nowhere with these people. But I am trying to present a rather different logic than just "Hey I was conned!" / "Tough, read the small print".
So - can I try taking my argument straight to the police?

Joshua :

my sincere apologies for the delay in reverting to you. You could approach the police however as far as I'm aware, only trading standards have the ability to prosecute under the consumer protection regulations above. The police by contrast would be limited to considering prosecutions under for example the fraud act which would require evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the company in question is intending to defraud individuals out of money by deception. Given that the websites does relatively clearly-albeit by no means prominently-state that it does not offer an official passport service but rather the service of dubious benefit you mentioned above, it is not entirely clear that the prosecution under the fraud act would be successful as being a criminal offence, a high level of proof is required. This is why in part the consumer protection regulations were introduced to catch dubious trade practices which clearly appear wrong and designed to mislead and so on but would not necessarily satisfy the test required by other criminal legislation such as the fraud act or theft act

Joshua :

having said that, the police are free to choose what to investigate and wants to prosecute and it does not cost anything to make a report to them and therefore there is little reason not to contact the police if you wish. At the same time, there is no harm in your contacting trading standards and if you receive anything less than a cooperative response, you could seek to question the individual as to why they do not believe that their practices are a breach under the consumer protection regulations. You could consider following up a conversation with a letter because this means trading standards would be to respond in writing for which they would need to present a considered response

Joshua :

Does the above answer all your questions or is there anything I can clarify or help you with any further?

Customer:

Thankyou so much, Joshua - all done, and you were amazingly helpful :-)

Joshua, Lawyer
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 25358
Experience: LL.B (Hons), Higher Prof. Dip. Law & Practice
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