So, you want to be up-to-date in the 21st Century and use the quickest and most convenient way to Renew your expired British Passport. Being all tech-savvy and familiar with all the latest internet gadgetry you think the best way to start your application process is to go to an Internet Search engine such as Google, Yahoo or Bing and type in 'online passport application'.
Sounds all so simple and straightforward doesn't it - up comes the page of search results for electronic passport renewals and you click on the first link you see. So far so good - up comes an official looking British Government website with a Union Jack flag and Her Majesty's Royal Coat-of-Arms - it all looks reassuringly secure and trustworthy. Follow the instructions, enter all the private, confidential personal information for you and your children - including Date of Birth, current Passport Number and Postal address and complete your online British Passport Application.
And for such a low price! All they ask for a brand new International Travel Document is £29.50 each - so in go your Credit Card number, expiry date and Security Code and click 'Submit'. All that remains to be done is wait for the paper application form to be returned to you, carefully checked and filled in for you to send off to the Identity and Passport Service. So, feet up, make a nice cup of tea and wait for your shiny new British Passport to arrive in the post in time for the holiday you've booked in a couple of weeks time. Well done!
But what's this? A letter from the official government passport service asking for a payment for each of your family member's passport applications and saying that issue will be delayed until you make a full payment (Adults: £72.50 & Children: £49.00 as of 23/03/2013). But surely this cannot be right, you paid the correct fee online, as you were asked by the government's own official website.
A quick call to the proper Identity and Passport Service telephone Adviceline on 0300 222 000 soon clarifies the situation: Unfortunately the all-official-looking passport application website you used to initiate the application was one run and owned by a Third-Party form-filling service located offshore in the Caymen Islands, conveniently beyond the reach of the English law. They have, of course, kept the fees you paid for themselves, instead of forwarding the money to the real passport service to put towards the cost of your application.
But wait, there's more. Remember all that really sensitive information regarding yourself and your loved-ones you entered into the 'official' online passport application service - you know, names, addresses, dates of birth, mothers maiden names, Credit Card number, etc..... Well, guess what. It's gone for good, stored in some offshore database to be used for who know's what purpose and to be sold to the highest bidder. Which of course opens up questions about Identity Theft.
So, what can we learn from this sorry tale of good intentions thwarted by deception and ill-intent?
If you have been charged by one of these bogus passport application websites don't let them get away with it!
Make a fuss: DEMAND the website owners refund you ♦ Get your Credit Card company to charge-back (this hurts them most) ♦ Complain to Google, Yahoo & Bing ♦ Complain to the UK government ♦ Let TV's Watchdog and similar consumer affairs programs investigate ♦ Blog, Tweet, write to the newspapers, let everyone know!
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