Newcastle MP warns scam websites undermine government’s digital services

The MP for Newcastle, Chi Onwurah, has demanded action over the “growing scam” of websites that masquerade as official government sites and falsely charging members of the public for services such as renewing car tax or getting a passport.

The Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, warned that such websites are destroying confidence in the government’s digital services.

Speaking after a Commons inquiry earlier this month, Ms Onwurah warned that the government “must do more to warn” the public of such misleading websites that have charged fees for services.

A report by the Transport Select Committee said government agencies should also contact search engines to ask for the sites to be removed from search results.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said that the government is working on action with search engines and that the government recognises that “high levels of digital take-up will be achieved only if the public feel confident about using Government services online. The problem of misleading third-party websites can dent that confidence.”

Ms Onwurah said there are third party sites which provide a genuine service, such as helping people check tax returns before submitting to HM Revenue and Customs, but others were simply designed to extract money from people.

Right now many people are experiencing what I call digital discomfort… There is a general issue about trust in digital services, which is why we must work hard to give the public the confidence to put their trust in the digital services offered by Government. Not enough is being done across the board to protect and include the most vulnerable. If we do not act quickly to tackle problems such as copycat websites, we risk undermining trust in digital government specifically, and technology more generally. As we know, trust is hard to gain and easy to lose.”

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