Consumers are urged to be aware that numerous websites offering to carry out internet searches for a fee may actually be providing information from government agencies that is publicly available for free or at a much lower cost.
Many searches are related to vehicle checks and may include registration status and expiry reminders, services that are offered at no cost by the WA Department of Transport via their DoTDirect online services.
One site charges for a fuel price map when this information is available to WA motorists at no charge on the FuelWatch website.
The Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR), formerly known as REVS Checks, provides information on a used car such as whether there is any money owing on it, if it has been written off or stolen. There is a charge of two to seven dollars for these searches depending on the amount of information required, but there are many third party sites that charge much more for the same results.
Another area where online companies offer to search for a fee is finding lost or unclaimed superannuation. This search can be carried out for free on the Australian Taxation Office website or via a MyGov account.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Gary Newcombe said many consumers may not be aware that this information can be obtained at little or no cost.
“It can be confusing when carrying out an internet search and the high fee-charging sites are mixed in with the low cost or free sites, usually operated by a government agency,” Mr Newcombe said.
“Offering free services for a fee is not illegal as the paying customer may get an extra service, such as a car history report for example, but we want consumers to be informed before signing up to these services which can also involve recurring monthly charges.
“There are some sites offering vehicle checks using the old REVS name, a term which some people may be more familiar with than the current PPSR, but they can charge at least five times more.
“So we would recommend that people cut out the middle man by going straight to the source and avoid the third party sites that seek to profit from information that they can also obtain for free or at a much lower cost.”
Further enquiries can be made by email email@example.com or by calling 1300 30 40 54.