The perils of 'search': some official sites pay for their top rankings
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to health care from the state, usually free, when you are travelling to any other EEA country (the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). But if you need one and do a search on ‘ehic’ the sites at the top of the results will all charge you for the card which is in fact free. One even calls itself nhs-direct.org.uk implying that it is part of the NHS. It is not. These firms typically charge £14.99 for simply passing your application on to the NHS. Some even offer an ‘express’ service which of course cannot do anything to speed up the NHS which usually sends it within a few days. Get your EHIC free from the official NHS site www.ehic.org.uk.
Another common trick is to hijack searches for helplines for a bank or company. But if you call these ‘helplines’ it can cost you up to £1.65 a minute from a landline or £2.55 a minute from a mobile phone. Avoid any service which uses a number beginning 09. They offer you nothing you cannot find free online and some even warn that the advice ‘cannot be relied upon’. To find a genuine helpline it is always better to go to the company website and search there. If the company uses a number beginning 084 or 087 that can also cost you more than a normal phone. Use www.saynoto0870.com to find a free or cheaper alternative.
Among other chancers that hijack searches are companies which charge you double the normal cost for a driving test theory exam or practical test (the real site is here www.direct.gov.uk/en/Motoring/LearnerAndNewDrivers/LearningToDriveOrRide/DG_4022530 Other sites charge you three or four times the real cost of the ESTA visa waiver you need to travel to the USA – that costs $14 but some sites charge $49. Official site is here https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. Searching for a visa to other countries will also bring up unofficial and expensive sites instead of the real thing.
These companies all pay the search engine for their position at the top of the results list. Their links should show that by a pale cream background but it is not always that clear. Nor does it always sort the real from the fake. Some official sites pay to be in the top places. And some fake sites make it into the non-paid-for list below.
So always be very, very careful when searching for services. Avoid the expensive traps laid by these legal but undesirable alternatives.
* Read Paul Lewis's money news every month in Saga Magazine.