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Author: Tom Hunt

Unofficial New Zealand passport websites are operating and the Government is powerless to stop them.

The Department of Internal Affairs has got search engines to remove two sites from searches but both remain online. 

"Internal Affairs does not have control over the third-party sites, so is unable to shut them down," it said in a statement.

"The reality is, sites like this exist, and others may surface in the future, so it remains our main priority to educate Kiwis about using the trusted government website, passports.govt.nz."

The sites, which charge between $99 and $149 use data sent in by customers to complete passport renewal forms, which are sent back to the customers, to be sent to DIA, and pay the actual passport renewal fee.  

It had received 37 reports from people who had used the sites.

"We identified ads for the third-party sites on Bing, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo, all of which are no longer appearing.

"Microsoft NZ has blocked the malicious domains from being used for any future ads on Bing, and permanently closed the advertising accounts associated with the third-party sites."

The small print of the two sites states that they are not affiliated Government sites, not affiliated with any New Zealand Government authorities, and that they do not issues passports directly. The small print also points out that that people could apply directly through the New Zealand Government site.

"We are a private company that provides consulting and administrative management, and gives help support for the NZ passport renewal application process in order to do it easier, better and faster; for this reason we apply a NZ$99 or $149 service fee.

"Our work fees charged are for the preparation of your documents and do not include the public fees for obtaining the passport."

But they have caused enough concern that DIA recently put out a release, warning New Zealanders against using the sites.

"When dealing with identity information, it's important Kiwis are diligent and mindful of potential scams," DIA service, delivery, and operations deputy chief executive Russell Burnard said.

"Passports contain personal information – if you're renewing or applying for a passport online, make sure you're on the official website," Burnard says.

DIA was contacting people suspected of using the sites.

"[We] are focused on raising awareness of using the official site, so other New Zealanders do not fall victim."

Category: News
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Article: https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/116401056/government-powerless-to-shut-down-unofficial-nz-passport-sites
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