Redbourn-based ‘DVLA’ site duped users - Credit: Archant

Acquiring an internet domain resulted in a local woman running a misleading website and enticing users into paying unnecessary fees for driving licence services.

A web watchdog has ruled that the address, which had been acquired by Colette Ferrow, of Dunstable Road, Redbourn, has to be handed over to the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

The Cabinet Office intervened on behalf of the DVLA, claiming that the domain was hosting a “copycat” website designed to “hoodwink” the public into paying excessive fees for services - such as changing driving licence details – which can be done directly with the DVLA.

Some of the services are available from the DVLA’s website for free and others are cheaper than those offered on Ms Ferrow’s site – drawing an “angry and embarrassed” complaint from one user who said he had been “duped” into using it.

Now online dispute resolution service, Nominet, has ordered Ms Ferrow to give up the contentious domain name, saying that she “intended to create the false impression” her website was connected to the DVLA.

Nominet expert, Andrew Clinton, said the controversial online real estate was transferred to Ms Ferrow from a man who originally registered it on December 5, 2013.

The domain was being used for a website that offered “the same services” as the DVLA’s website, he explained.

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He went on: “The pricing model adopted by Ms Ferrow is to charge a premium for services which are either available free of charge or at a reduced fee when obtained directly from the official DVLA’s website.”

Her site charged £90 for a provisional licence, which costs £50 directly from the DVLA. It also charged £40 for a change of address and £20 for a change of a name on a licence – which are both free from the DVLA.

The Cabinet Office claimed the registration of the web address was “abusive”, arguing that Ms Ferrow acquired it “knowing it would confuse customers” and that the DVLA’s legitimate business was “unfairly disrupted.”

It also said the site breached its DVLA trademark and highlighted a complaint from a customer as evidence that “actual confusion” arose from the use of the domain.

In an email to the DVLA last year, the customer said: “I was obviously duped and am both embarrassed and angry.”

But Ms Ferrow contended that she ran a “legitimate business”, providing services “over and above” those offered by the DVLA, including “24-hour email support”.

She also pointed out that there were disclaimers on every page of the site which made it clear that it had no affiliation with the DVLA.

Mr Clinton ordered Ms Ferrow to transfer the contentious web domain to the Cabinet Office.