Online Scams: Beware Of Fake Administrative Websites!
When performing an administrative procedure online, such as requesting a birth certificate or a building permit, it is important to be particularly vigilant in order to avoid falling into the trap of fake administrative websites. An increasingly common scam involves offering paid services to internet users, even though most online procedures are free. We will explain how to recognize a fake administrative website and how to avoid falling into this type of trap.
What does this scam consist of?
You have probably already heard of phishing, which involves extracting personal information from internet users through a falsified website that closely resembles an official and trustworthy site...
But did you know that phishing is no longer the only online scam that disguises itself as an official website to deceive internet users? Another scam uses fake administrative websites to charge consumers for administrative procedures that are usually free.
These commercial sites, which offer paid services to provide you with administrative documents, create confusion with the official websites of the French administration. They use legal references and a deceptive visual identity with the blue, white, and red colors of the French flag, as well as the symbol of Marianne and logos similar to official logos...
According to the DGCCRF, one million people are deceived every year by this type of online scam, resulting in wrongfully charged 150 million euros.
What are the free administrative procedures in France?
The first tip to avoid the scam of fake administrative websites is simply to consult the website service-public.fr (link below).
This official website of the French administration lists all other official websites and redirects you to the appropriate site to carry out your online procedures based on the nature of your request. It also indicates whether the procedure you want to perform is free or not.
Remember that in France, most administrative procedures are free, including:
• Requests for civil status documents such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or death certificate.
• Requests for identity documents such as the renewal of an ID card or a biometric passport.
• Vehicle registration and obtaining the Crit'Air sticker for your car.
• Planning permission requests such as a prior declaration of works or a building permit, for example.
• Document requests such as an extract from the business register or a criminal record extract sometimes required for certain positions.
Remember that it is preferable to consult the website service-public.fr to be redirected to the right place. Indeed, the first results in search engines do not necessarily correspond to the official website, but are often commercial advertisements. Commercial websites can be better ranked than official websites because they buy keywords to appear at the top of search engine result pages.
How to recognize a fake administrative website?
Even if commercial websites look a lot like official websites of the French administration in order to deceive consumers, some details should raise a red flag.
The first reflex to have in order to recognize fake administrative websites is to check the URL of the site, that is, the address displayed in the address bar of your Internet browser. Official websites always end with .gouv.fr or .fr but never with .gouv.org or .gouv.com.
Stay vigilant because a .fr website does not guarantee that it is an official website or that the company operating the site is established in France. In addition, the mention of https at the beginning of the URL is necessary on an official website, but does not constitute sufficient guarantee.
Another precaution is to check the identity of the site and its legal information before making any online payment.
What are the obligations of commercial websites?
In the face of fake administrative websites, you can alert the DGCCRF or report abuses on SignalConso in the "Administrative Procedures" section.
However, note that commercial websites offering administrative assistance are not necessarily fraudulent.
To be legal, these sites must comply with the following obligations:
• Clearly indicate their commercial nature, without trying to present themselves as an official government website.
• Provide clear information about the nature of the service and the prices charged.
• Provide an invoice to their clients or a confirmation of the order with the VAT-inclusive price.
• Send the requested documents directly to the client and not receive them on their behalf.
• Inform clients of their rights regarding the withdrawal period.
The client must have given their express agreement for the execution of the service before the expiration of the withdrawal period, otherwise a withdrawal period of 14 days applies.
What is the subscription trap?
Another common scam on fake administrative websites is called "the subscription trap or hidden subscription".
Internet users, deceived by the "official" appearance of a commercial website with the tricolor flag, Marianne symbol, and references to ministries, think they are paying a modest amount of one euro to obtain an administrative document. But in reality, at the time of contract conclusion, they unknowingly subscribe to a much higher monthly subscription, around €50 per month for several months.
To avoid falling into this subscription trap, you must remain particularly vigilant during your browsing on the website. Scammers try to lead you, step by step, towards subscribing to a service you never requested. If you have any doubts, do not hesitate to interrupt the procedure before proceeding to payment!
To know what you are actually committing to, you must carefully read the general terms and conditions of sale (GTC) to understand the nature of the contract that binds you to the merchant.