By Daniel Machin
Motorists are unnecessarily paying up to £6 extra to process their London congestion charge payments through unofficial 'copycat' websites.
Transport for London (TfL) claims around 1,000 people a day are using such sites to pay the congestion charge, often not realising their mistake.
The warning follows an Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruling last week that one website - paylondoncongestion.co.uk - had to make it clearer to users that it was not affiliated to the real TfL website.
It investigated the website and a sponsored ad on Google after receiving numerous complaints from consumers that they were misleading.
While it is not against the law for a company to offer a similar service to an official government body and charge for it, the ASA is expected to commission research into the problem of unofficial sites at some point this year.
Drivers using the official TfL site pay £10 for the London congestion charge, although those using paylondoncongestion.co.uk pay £16.
If you pay for previous days, on the other hand, the Tfl site charges £12 and the unofficial site charges £20.
It justifies the extra cost by providing additional services such as email confirmation and a dedicated helpline - services which are available for free through TfL.
The website is one of a number of online companies set up to mimic official channels.
These websites pay search engines to promote their businesses in order to appear top in search rankings on the internet.
Misleading the public
Garrett Emmerson, TfL's chief operating officer for surface transport, has moved to assure consumers that the body will do everything in its power to help differentiate between official and unofficial websites.
"TfL will be taking steps to seek to ensure that unofficial websites and search engines who allow them to advertise are not misleading the public," he said.
"We will continue to pursue these avenues but in the meantime we urge motorists to take care and only use TfL's website."
Websites that charge for European Health Insurance Cards, which are free from the NHS and give Britons access to healthcare abroad, have been censured by the ASA, along with companies that add on additional fees for booking a theory driving test.