Be on the lookout for look-alike websites that cost big bucks for services that would be low-cost or no-cost on government websites.

A few weeks ago, for example, I told people to check the status of their driver’s license on the state’s website. When I write a column and mention a website, you can get to the right link by reading the column online and clicking on the words printed in blue.

Many of you didn’t go to the column online to get to the link. Instead you typed “Florida DMV license check” into your web browser. When you search this way, the first link to come up goes to a website that states it “is a privately owned website not owned or operated by any state government agency.”

For some reason people didn’t notice that and were billed $39.95 for the service.

“Why didn’t you mention we’d have to pay for it?” one reader asked me. Because you don’t. If you go to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website the license check is free.

A similar problem has come up with people trying to use the Lee County Tax Collector site to renew their vehicle registration. When searching for “tag renewal Lee County Florida” the top-of-the-page link is to a website charging a $19.95 service fee, $3.00 agency fee, $1.95 card processing fee and $3.95 shipping and handling, in addition to whatever fee is charged by the tax collector to register the vehicle.

So you end up paying about $28 more than you would have by going to the proper site. The tax collector website would charge for the registration fee and a small credit card processing fee.

Joanne Robertson, director of administration and community relations for the Lee County Tax Collector, said they have added the words, “official site” to the webpage hoping people will choose that site over others in the search results.

The imposter sites will almost always come up before the government sites because they pay for placement at the top of a search. If you use Google, for example, the ads will appear at the top of the search results if the company is paying to be there. Businesses will pay a few hundred dollars to “tens of thousands of dollars a month,” Google states on its website to get top-of-the-page ad position. But if you look closely when you do this search, those results will have an icon that reads “AD.”

Change-of-address sites are another big rip-off for consumers. The commercial sites charge $20 to $35 for the service, but the United States Postal Service website charges only $1.05.

If you search on your own rather than click on a link in an article, be careful. Although many commercial websites aren’t marked “AD” many of them are. To be sure, scroll to the bottom and look for a disclaimer. And the most important point is not to enter payment information unless you know exactly what you will be charged. And if it sounds like it’s too much to pay for a service the government agency usually provides free of charge, don’t do it.

Contact: TellMel@news-press.com; (239)344-4772; 2442 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Fort Myers, FL 33901. facebook.com/TellMel and Twitter @tellmel.

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