back to article UK.gov to Google: Kill impostor taxmen ADs hogging top spot in YOUR search results

Google is to be told by the UK government to weaken the threats posed by copycat websites that offer tax return services to unsuspecting Brits, presumably by getting the ad giant to push the links off its first page of search results. Tory backbencher David Davis asked the Treasury, in a parliamentary question, if it would be …

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1st contact

I cant talk about the first company shown but 1st Contact are a pretty well known brand, especially for ex-pats. They cover a lot of things, and do help a lot of ex-pats with their taxes in the UK (I know a few people who use them), so not really seeing a problem with them being on the google results list for tax return.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 1st contact

Yes, the tax side of things isn't so much of a problem. Applying for a US ESTA or Australian ETA OTOH can be problematic. Last time I visited Aus, the very simple ETA application was free for a British passport holder, if you could find the right amongst the search results offering paid services!

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Anonymous Coward

Bing

What are the results like when searching on Bing? Oh wait, nobody cares about Bing. :-)

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Re: Bing

They should, as it returns relevant searches without the con sites

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Re: Bing

taxreturngateway.com are the first listed advert on Bing as well. HMRC's own website is listed 5th in the list.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bing

taxreturngateway.com are the first listed advert on Bing as well. HMRC's own website is listed 5th in the list.

Strange ... when I try Bing then HMRC come out top and there are no adverts (even if I turn adblock off). First "non-free" option is a few places down the list but that has "£89 to get an accountant to complete your tax return" in the associated text.

Though also when I try google then HMRC are the top 6 results .. and I have to turn adblock off to see the ads at the top.

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Re: Bing

Just tried it here on Bing and HMRC came up first as well - no ads either.

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Anonymous Coward

People see Google's ads?

How quaint.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Anonymous posters are pompous?

How predictable.

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Big Brother

And the water temperature goes up another tenth of a degree ...

When will the frog die ?

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Im sorry, but unless they are carrying out illegal activities what right does an MP or anyone else have to interfere with their business, much less there position in some search results. If they are carrying out illegal activities, how about reporting it to the police and letting the proper procedure remove them. MP's demanding this and that from legal companies is getting pretty old, they need to get off their power trip.

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"unless they are carrying out illegal activities"

Given that the government is concerned these sites are fooling people into believing they are the official hmrc means of doing a tax return then I think "carrying out illegal activities" definitely comes into play.

The issue of the warning being above the fold is that, it is above the fold on a desktop monitor not a tablet or smart phone. My stepdad got caught out paying extra for the congestion charge through a third party in this way.

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So you missed my point about investigating that using the police then, you know due process and all!? you are not guilty of anything till proven in court, regardless of what an MP thinks.

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Then they should go after the site, not Google...why should Google protect your site? Even if your the government, you have no more right to be at the top of any search result list than anyone else.

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Perhaps the UK government should launch a public awareness campaign

on the dangers of clicking the adverts in Google search results?

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Google ARE to blame here

They spend countless billions and employ the brightest people on the planet to make search results eminently relevant and useful, then blow it in a single stroke by placing paid adverts at the top of the list.

There's no problem with Google placing adverts on any of their pages, just don't make them look like organic search results.

Also, to answer "who sees Google adverts anyway?" - that would be exactly the kind of people likely to be fooled by those fake services.

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Facepalm

Intelligence test?

Oh come on... maybe you've clicked on the first Google result because time's a bit tight. But if you missed the disclaimer, the taxreturngateway site even has pretty graphics showing why they're better than HMRC.

If you're savvy enough to understand that you have to submit a tax return and even fancy having a go online, it's a bit lame complaining that you didn't realise that the website which claims to be better than HMRC is, in fact not HMRC.

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Re: Intelligence test?

That would be true but more and more people who are not IT literate are being drawn into self assessment. They don't want to do it online as they are not that net savvy but are being encouraged to do so as it is "safe and saves money".

Then through their lack of familiarity with the process, and the fact that a paid-for ad that looks remarkably like HMRC appears at the top of the search list, in the same colours as the form they have in their hand, using weasel words like "registered with HRMC as a tax agent", which the average confusenik will take to mean "approved by HMRC", they end up with a bill for £400, which must be right mustn't it, because it is the governent and they sent me this letter, and I don't understand all this, where is my credit card? Not everyone is endowed with generous quantities of common sense, IT literacy and the ability to think logically.

They have a right to offer their services for money, but they appear try and makethemselves appear to be more "official" than they are. It may not be illegal but it makes my blood boil when they shaft and exploit the weak, elderly, easily confused and maybe just those who think they are savvy, but aren't really. Not really sure Google can do anything either as it isn't illegal. Doesn't make it right though.

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Anonymous Coward

What we seem to want in Britain now is capitalism without the capitalist companies.

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No, what the MP's want is everything exactly as they say. They want capitalism for the GDP but they also want to look like they are doing something for the voters, so they play both games at the same time.

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Sorry, but tough

My son fell for a site he thought was the DVLA which charged him £50 to apply for his provisional driving license. It stings, but they didn't actually do anything illegal, and my son learnt something the hard way.

MP's trying to show they're doing something useful by criticising private corporations on moral rather than legal grounds? I'd rather they simply did something useful.

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Re: Sorry, but tough

I always find it amusing when our MP's critique something on moral grounds - when most of them must have demonstrated the morals of an alley cat on heat to get to parliament in the first place.

I do have a grudging respect for David Davis though who is the only MP who has ever demonstrated some awareness of the need for privacy against the surveillance state. Looks like he should stick to what he knows best.....

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Re: Sorry, but tough

> My son fell for a site he thought was the DVLA which charged him £50 to apply for his provisional driving license.

Erm. It looks like it's £50 to apply through the official website too.

Or have I fallen for the same trick as your son?

Or were you being "ironic"? (I'm getting old, and it's so hard to keep up with the humorous young people nowadays.)

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Re: Sorry, but tough

This particular scam site charges you £50 to send out the application form. You then have to pay another £50 to DVLA to get the actual licence.

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FAIL

Accountants

Better ban search listings / adverts for accountants as well, then.

Would someone care to explain the scam to me? Government websites have .gov.uk at the end, don't they?

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Re: Accountants

In fairness the average Joe probably doesnt entirely realise that.

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Re: Accountants

"Government websites have .gov.uk at the end, don't they?"

Of course they do, if it's not got a .gov.uk addresss, IT'S A SCAM!!!! just ask www.cyberstreetwise.com

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Anonymous Coward

Duck Duck Go

Just done a search on UK tax returnes. Duck Duck Go returns one (clearly marked) sponsored link, followed by hmrc.gov.uk.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Headmaster

Re: Sorry to be grumpy, as usual

The OED describes "imposter" as a customs agent who classifies imported goods according to the rates of duty payable (ie "one who imposts").

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I think you're looking for "Impostor"

And if its a woman doing the impersonation, does that mean the olde fashioned way of describing her would have been as an impostrix? Or impostress? It's all very confusing. :-)

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Tax Return Gateway

Sneaky how the TaxReturnGateway people made a website with a colour scheme using exactly the same palate as the official HMRC site.

They made one big mistake though, their website actually looks professional and tidy. If you click the official HMRC link just below it you get a horrendous mess which looks like it was produced by a 15-year-old YTS trainee who had been handed a copy of FrontPage from 1998.

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"We have a strict set of policies which govern what types of ads appear on Google."

Their main policy is "Do we have their money yet?"

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Anonymous Coward

Not just this...

They ARE trying to con.....

Search for Passport Application, 1st hit.

Title of ad:

Passport Application - UK-Passport.net‎

www.uk-passport.net/Gov-UK

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Re: Not just this...

Just done it. First search result: https://www.gov.uk/browse/abroad/passports‎

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I see nothing wrong with this.

If HMRC want to be at the top of the paid ads they can do so. They should certainly be able to outbid any competitors.

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Mushroom

Re: I see nothing wrong with this.

I'd rather HMRC didn't have to pay lots of my money to Google to outbid scam websites.

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This is a government we're talking about, right? A government that can make things illegal and regulate things. If they have a problem with what site X does, all they have to do is make it illegal or make it follow some government rule. If it wanted to, it could make any website offering tax filing to include "The official tax office will file returns for free and this site isn't the official tax office" as the first words in the title of the landing page. Or whatever. Governments need to stop making Google do what they are unwilling to do.

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"Private company muscles Blighty's TAXMAN out of the top spot"

No they don't. Just look at the picture. hmrc.gov.uk is the first search result.

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Anonymous Coward

Pragmatically, the minister is probably taking the right approach...

Any company outright claiming or more subtly creating the impression they're someone else is presumably breaking one law or another, be it trademark-infringement, rules about "passing off", or downright fraud "obtaining goods or services (or payment) by deception".

Problem is, while the government and parliament takes much pride and song-and-dance about creating new laws, we seem to be increasingly impotent at enforcement. The authorities, police, whoever, increasingly don't seem to have the balls (or resources?) to deal definitively with dodgy businesses - or pussyfoot around giving them "words of advice" and time (years) to "give them a chance to improve their practices" - a frankly quaint approach, totally out of touch with the realities, pace, and attitudes of today's world.

This goes doubly so for scams which are primarily online or promulgated by telephone.

"We're phoning you on behalf of Lloyds TSB, Barclays, and BoS about your PPI refund." No you're not. You've got no official connection with any big-name bank. These calls/texts have been going on for 2 years, yet nothing seemingly is done. They fall between the cracks of OFCOM, Phone Pay Plus (or whatever they call themselves this week) and I-don't-know. And nobody bangs their heads together and tells them to stop passing the buck and sort it. And the gov is totally unimaginative in envisaging the gaps between all these regulatory bodies when it sets their remit (or is bamboozled by too many lobbyists with vested interests).

Deceptive websites fall into much the same category. Except that as far as I'm aware there's no specific body to chase them, and the basic plod probably wouldn't know where to start.

Add to which both the websites and telephone scams may well be run from outside UK jurisdiction.

So actually, chasing Google (a single point of call, who isn't going to merely disappear today, then pop up tomorrow under a new trading name after months of "investigation" and "words of advice") and asking them not to screen misleading ads is probably actually the least-effort way for ministers to get the result they seek. Even if they don't have legal powers to enforce G to do anything,

As a longer-term strategy however, the gov has got to get to grips with enforcing the law properly through suitable channels which are up to the task.

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Anonymous Coward

Google sponsored ads are a nightmare. In the past I've asked a client to go to supportdetails.com. They've typed _something_ in to Google and clicked a sponsored ad to a different website. AARGHHHHH!

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