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Investigations into the deceptive online selling of EHIC cards

Complainant: OFT own-initiative investigations

Investigations of:

  1. Portcreek Ltd (www.ehic.org)
  2. Dan Joseph Walker (www.thejwsgroup.com/ehicservice)
  3. IMAP (UK) Ltd (www.ehic.uk.com)
  4. www.e111-online.com
  5. www.ehiconline.org

Cases opened: 26 March 2010

Cases closed: 10 August 2010

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Issue

Misleading websites: applications for European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs)

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Relevant instrument(s)

Enterprise Act 2002, Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002

These five investigations were opened by the OFT on its own initiative following complaints made to Consumer Direct and subsequent consultation with the Department of Health. The complaints were about online applications for EHICs, which provide UK residents with access to state-provided healthcare in European Economic Area countries for a reduced rate or for free. The five websites in question supposedly offered a 'review and forward' service for the applications, for which a fee was charged. Consumers complained that they had believed websites of this type were the official websites for applying for EHICs, and they could have applied via the official site for free.

The OFT was assisted by the Department of Health and by Bolton Trading Standards Service.  

1. Portcreek Ltd (www.ehic.org) 
2.
Dan Joseph Walker (www.thejwsgroup.com/ehicservice)
3. IMAP (UK) Ltd (www.ehic.uk.com)

After reviewing the complaints and information provided by the Department of Health and the operators of these three websites, the OFT formed the view that they were operating in breach of the CPRs.  In particular, their commercial practices:

  • constituted misleading actions in that their overall presentation deceived or was likely to deceive the average consumer in relation to the main characteristics of the product, the need for the service, the nature, attributes and rights of the trader, and the consumer's rights, contrary to Regulation 5 of the CPRs. For example, consumers were deceived or were likely to be deceived in relation to the service that was actually being provided and the fact that the website in question was not the official NHS Business Service Authority website, where the EHIC could be obtained free of charge, and
  • constituted misleading omissions in that they hid material information, namely that each website was not the official website for EHIC applications, or provided that information in a manner that was unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely, contrary to Regulation 6 of the CPRs.

The OFT also formed the view, in relation to the website www.thejwsgroup.com/ehicservice, that this website was operating in breach of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002, due to its failure to include information (for example, the name and geographic address of the trader in question) that would enable consumers to contact the trader rapidly and in a direct and effective manner.

As required in this case under the Enterprise Act 2002, the OFT engaged in consultation with Portcreek Ltd, Dan Joseph-Walker and IMAP (UK) Ltd to ensure that the identified infringements are not continued or repeated. Following this consultation, all three signed undertakings to comply with the law.

The undertakings require a number of changes to be made to the websites so that it is clear that they are not the official websites for making applications for EHICs. As certain sites had purchased sponsored search engine links and therefore featured prominently when consumers entered 'EHIC' into a search engine, the undertakings also prohibit the traders from including general information about EHICs in these links without also including the fact that it is not the official website.

4. www.e111-online.com

The OFT wrote to the operator of a fourth website, www.e111-online.com, to ask for more information about this website. In response, the operator of the website voluntarily shut down this site.

5. www.ehiconline.org

A fifth website, www.ehiconline.org, was hosted in the USA with a registrant apparently located in Spain. This website's domain name was suspended by the website's domain name registrar at the request of the OFT as a result of concerns expressed by the OFT in relation to the website's compliance with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (the 'CPRs') and also the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (for example, failure to display the name and geographic address of the trader).

Having secured these results, the OFT has now closed these investigations. 

The OFT will continue to monitor the traders who have given undertakings to ensure that the undertakings are not breached. If the undertakings are breached, the OFT may take further action in court, including applying for an enforcement order under the Enterprise Act 2002.

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Related documents

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Contact details

Team leader: Hugh Little 020 7211 8440 (hugh.little@oft.gsi.gov.uk)

Project director: Nigel Cates 020 7211 8114 (nigel.cates@oft.gsi.gov.uk)

Senior Responsible Officer: Cavendish Elithorn 020 7211 8170 (cavendish.elithorn@oft.gsi.gov.uk)

Case reference: CRE-E-25594

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