RESIDENTS are being warned to be on their guard against “copycat” websites after a number of older people were scammed while renewing their passports.

The warning has come as council officers said they had noticed a rise in the number of residents, particularly older people, complaining they had been charged more than the set fees during their passport applications.

Public protection spokesman Councillor Phil Smith said: “Our officers have seen a notable increase in people - often older people - who have used a website for applying for passports only to find they are then charged more than the set fees.

“This is because they are not using the ‘.gov’ sites and they are misleading - some people believe they are the only way to get a passport.

“In Thurrock we have received over ten of these complaints in the last month alone.

“By imitating official government services online, these websites are designed to trick you into parting with your cash unnecessarily, charging users for services that are provided cheaper or even free-of-charge through official channels.”

Complaints in Thurrock have mostly centred on passport applications but residents are warned similar copycat websites exist for booking driving tests, renewing car tax discs and applying for driving licences and European health insurance cards.

Residents are advised to avoid using any websites other than in making these transactions and reporting any misleading or copycat websites to Citizens Advice on 03454 040506.