Last week I lost my wallet. After a frantic search I concluded that it wasn’t going to show up and began the tedious and very necessary process of replacing all the financial and travel cards that were in it.
My first task was to cancel my bank debit and credit cards. I was relieved to find that none of them had been used and full marks to American Express and NatWest for speedy, polite and sympathetic response.
Amex wins the prize for efficiency with two new cards, my BA premium miles card and my Daily Mail corporate card, delivered to my home by DHL within 24 hours.
The trickier task was re-establishing my ID. The TfL website, required for regaining my Freedom Pass for London travel, was easily navigated and the charge nominal.
Alex Brummer fell foul of a sham website as he rushed to replace the contents of his lost wallet (file photo)
Encouraged by the speed with which I was able to get this done (although the replacement has yet to arrive) I then tackled the replacement for my plastic driving licence.
Frankly, I was in a great hurry to re-establish my identity. ‘DVLA’ and ‘lost driving licence’ were entered into the Google search engine and DVLA Licence Apply popped up as the first site on the list.
Above the ‘Welcome’ sign there was a disclaimer telling me that DVLA Licence Apply is ‘not affiliated’ with the UK official body. But like almost everyone else faced with these online warnings I carelessly ticked the box and rushed through the application process.
It occurred to me that the £77.60 charge was excessive but knowing how expensive it has become, for instance, to replace a passport I wasn’t unduly surprised.
The process seemed very thorough and, as it went on, I was slightly surprised about the amount of personal security detail required, down to my mother’s maiden name.
And although I am always reluctant to provide too much of this over the internet I figured it was a government site, they know everything there is to know about me anyway and my office computer was auto-filling most of it anyway.
In my haste to put my plastic life back together again, I hurried through the process and congratulated myself on starting to restore most of my lost documents so efficiently.
It was only when I mentioned to colleagues the high price of replacing a driver’s licence that I recognised something might be wrong.
The fraud department at Santander were extremely helpful and explained that sham websites are a common problem (file photo)
They helpfully looked up the official price (£20) and I quickly reached the conclusion that I was the subject of a scam. The high fee was hugely annoying. But what really worried me is that I had handed over so much personal data to an unauthorised site which would now have little difficulty, if it chose, to access and abuse my credit card and potentially much more.
My first act was to call Santander. I had used my only non-lost plastic — my Santander debit card — to pay DVLA Licence Apply.
The Santander fraud department was immensely helpful. It was pointed out that the card had not been used since I made the payment and no one, as far as they could see, had accessed my bank account.
Santander asked me how I had come to use the site concerned and the person on the end of the phone pointed out that sham sites are common.
It was explained they come up first on Google because the operators of these ‘pretend’ sites paid the search engine for the top slot. It seems that Google makes no checks at all on the safety and veracity of the sites they choose to promote and which come up first on searches.
Santander apologised that it couldn’t do anything to challenge the payment unless we could establish it was a fraud and the new licence failed to turn up (so far it hasn’t, nor have I even received a confirmation email).
But they suggested as a first step that we cancelled and destroyed my debit card — which I did. I returned to the website to complain about being ripped off and to try to contact them. There was a warning in red type that all the phone lines were down.
Hardly an encouraging sign. But there was an email address for questions. I logged my complaint some five days ago and am still awaiting a reply.
As a City Editor I am often amazed how easily savers and investors are sucked into mini-bonds and other fraudulent scams which come high up on Google searches.
Now, as the victim of rip-off site, I understand how easy it is to fall foul of cyber sharks.
My carelessness has been expensive and meant the sacrifice of valuable personal data. I hold Google responsible for these unfortunate events, as well as DVLA Licence Apply.
Google’s hugely lucractive search engine offers an easy route for liars and cheats to target ordinary citizens. As for whether my new driving licence will ever show up — that remains to be seen.
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