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A man using our website

Make sure it's us: Check you're getting genuine debt advice

When you need help with debt, you should feel confident that the organisation you're speaking to is genuine. Sadly, there are a number of 'clone firms' who are using altered versions of our name (e.g. 'Step to Change' or 'Step Changing') and other charities' names to convince people they're genuine debt advice services.

They're not genuine. They're scams, and they need to be stopped NOW.

What are clone firms?

Clone firms are fake websites that imitate real, trustworthy companies or charities. They're set up by scammers to trick you into giving your personal data or even your money. It's alarming how official they can seem. 

Clone firm links often appear at the very top of a search engine results page, as scammers will pay money to grab your attention first. And now, scammers are impersonating debt advice charities such as StepChange, National Debtline and Citizens Advice.

These companies also play on the fact that many consumers don’t realise that the first organisations listed in search results are adverts. For example, an Ofcom survey found only half of internet users can identify adverts in search engine results.

When you click on a link through to a clone firm, all may seem well at first. It’s a professional-looking website. They're talking about debt solutions and freezing interest. They even have helpful interactive tools and glowing reviews of their service.

Taking all this into account, you might be thinking, "Well, they look the part, they sound the part, and these reviews speak very highly of them. This must be the real StepChange."

But you'd be wrong.

This is a scam site set up to use our good name to grab your personal data. 

Once a clone firm or scam website has your data, they could:

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Sell it to other companies

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Try to access your bank account or other credit products

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Try to fraudulently take out credit in your name


And those customer reviews? They’re usually as fake as the website they're on. They’ve either been written by the scammers themselves or by a professional ‘review providers' who write bogus positive reviews.

Just because a company with a similar name to StepChange appears at the top of Google search results it doesn't mean it's the real deal.

When you search for StepChange on the web, make sure it's us!

Remember, we'll NEVER:

  • Contact you unless you contacted us first
  • Message you via apps such as WhatsApp
  • Charge you for debt advice
  • Refer you to a third party for a repayment plan

What can I do to protect myself from clone firms or scam websites?

CHECK THE WEB ADDRESS
Is it stepchange.org? If it’s not, you could be dealing with a clone firm.

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CHECK THE LOGO
If it’s not the logo you can see at the top of this page then it's not us.

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CHECK THE WEBSITE
Do they provide full contact information? Are they registered with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)?

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CHECK THE FCA REGISTER
You'll find us at www.register.fca.org.uk, where we're registered as 'Foundation for Credit Counselling'. If you search for the website's URL and this information doesn't come up, you're dealing with a clone firm.

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CHECK WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
Do they use phrases like a ‘Government-backed debt advice scheme to write off your debts’? We would never say this, nor would any legitimate debt advice charity.

Have you been contacted by a clone firm? We want to hear from you!

We’re keen to talk to anyone who’s accidentally contacted a clone firm. This will help us prevent these firms from taking advantage of people who need debt advice. Please contact our Media team with any information you can provide.

Get in touch

Steve was looking for debt advice when he encountered one of these clone firms.

He explained how stressful this experience was to Radio 4's "You & Yours" programme.

I put in StepChange and clicked on the first link that appeared. Unbeknownst to me, this link would have taken me to the organisation masquerading as StepChange."

I work for a company who refers customers to free debt advice.

What should I do?

Firstly, thank you for doing what you can to help your customers. Please ask your frontline staff to: 

  • Give the correct contact details to your customers
    If your customers search for debt advice through search engines, there’s a risk they’ll go to a clone firm. If your colleagues give our contact details directly to the customer, there’s a greater chance they’ll get to the right place. 
  • If a customer says they’ve had debt advice, listen for anything they say that doesn’t sound right
    This could include how they’ve been referred on to another company, that they’ve been contacted by WhatsApp, or that there are charges to set up a debt solution. 
  • Report any dealings that customers have with firms that seem dodgy to the FCA
    You can report suspicious websites on the FCA website. With your help, we can make it very difficult for clone firms to operate, which means greater safety for your customers.