French state gives advice on avoiding scam websites

Identity fraud and stolen funds costs the French public “at least €1.5m” every year, the DGCCRF said

The French government has published advice on how to avoid being scammed by fraudulent, criminal administrative websites.

Every year, one million people in France are estimated to be fooled by false administrative websites - leading to identity fraud and stolen funds - costing “at least €1.5m”, according to the Ministry for Economy and Finance.

The advice comes from Delphine Gény-Stephann, Secretary of State to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, in partnership with national consumer and fraud agency la Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCCRF).

It focuses on websites offering national administrative tools that are usually free, such as requests for birth certificates, criminal record checks, or similar.

The advice includes checking that any official site for administration ends in the web address “gouv.fr” or “.fr”, at a minimum.

Even sites that appear legitimate, such as with a “.fr” or using République Française imagery - such as Marianne or the tricolore - may not be.

Users are therefore also advised to cross-check web addresses with the official list of French administration sites at service-public.fr, and ideally use that as your starting point for official tasks.

Some fraudulent websites may come up higher in search engine results than the real ones, so it is important to double-check sites, even if they appear reputable.

Users should also check if a particular service is free or not, and stay alert if a website asks for money or bank details for something that should be free.

It is also advised to check the small print of a website, and if anything appears unclear or ambiguous, to be 100% certain before proceeding.

Fraud may be subtle, the DGCCRF said, reporting that some fraudulent websites have even been found setting up secret direct debits from accounts, after a user only authorised a small one-off payment.

This means that the fraudsters could be siphoning off small amounts from the account every week or month without being noticed initially, adding up to a significant amount over time.

A statement from the DGCCRF said: “In 2016, more than 2,300 complaints concerning requests for criminal record certificates not received were reported by the [national record office] Casier Judiciaire National, 300 of which were from users who paid for their criminal record certificates on unofficial websites.”

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