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If you’re planning your next trip abroad to an EU destination then you will need to carry a valid EHIC card. At least until Brexit, this card will allow British citizens free access to emergency health care in 27 EU countries. A valid EHIC card does have to be renewed every few years. Last June I went online to renew cards for all four of our family members. We were actually going to the USA on holiday but our KLM flights were routed through Amsterdam, so I was just being super careful.
Why I Appeared in Which? Magazine
To cut a long story short, it all went a bit wrong. In December 2017 I was a featured case study in UK consumer magazine “Which?” You guessed it: I had been caught out by one of those fake EHIC card websites.
Going back to that day in early June, I googled “EHIC renewal” or “European health insurance card renewal” and the top result was EHIC Direct. I’ve noticed that it is not the top result any more when I search today. Also the landing page is substantially different than it was in June. Now there is a central block of text with a much better disclaimer. You can’t miss it, although if you don’t read it all the way to the end you still might not understand it.
Finding EHIC Card Websites
Back in June the only disclaimer on the EHIC Direct site was in the side bar. The whole web page was so busy and visually confusing that I didn’t see it. By the time Which? Magazine published their article the side bar of EHIC direct had improved. There are several titles and one says “visit the NHS site” but back in June the title was “Official NHS Website”. Below that title was a disclaimer that at first I did not read, because the title above it led me to believe I was looking at the NHS site.
On that day in June I took a screen shot of the EHIC direct landing page along with the T&Cs. It’s true that there was disclaimer information on the website, but some genius graphic designer succeeded in deflecting me from it with the busy layout of the page, and above all by the banner “Official NHS Website.” I had entered all of my family’s information – names and dates of birth, address and so on before I realized that there was a charge. These pages of the website that recorded the personal information did not have a clear disclaimer on them. I remember feeling a bit annoyed at the cost.
Realizing My Mistake
Once the credit card had been accepted I decided to google “EHIC renewal cost” because I felt it was an unfair charge. I remember a chill came over me as I realized I had been fooled. It felt like I had been caught out by some Chinese scam website or fake Nigerian Prince! I was incredibly upset and worried. Quickly I cancelled my credit card but I wasn’t fast enough. I was sobbing on the phone to the credit card company because at that moment I believed I had been caught out by criminals – that is a measure of how unsettling it was.
Then I spotted that EHIC Direct website did have a cancellation option. I used this, so instead of paying about £35 I only paid £10. I was very surprised that cancelling worked, considering how shady it all seemed.
Why This is a Big Consumer Issue in the UK
I suppose that by putting a disclaimer on the website, EHIC Direct could claim they had complied with the letter of the law, but in my view it was not in the spirit of the law. They sent me an email offering a free iPhone app, but I don’t own an iPhone. This company now have all my family’s personal data on their system and I am not comfortable with that.
What bothers me most is that after Brexit there may be more cards and forms and visas and permissions which we will all be applying for. This problem of middle-men is going to mushroom. These companies do not add any value to the service which the Government provide so it is not free enterprise. The small print mentioned a “check and send service” which was actually non-existent. No government minister should feel hesitant in shutting them down in these circumstances. It is not commerce. There is no earthly reason for these companies to exist. They do nothing. The Government should ban them before more of them spring up to do our post-Brexit paperwork.
I felt incredibly foolish for letting myself be caught out by EHIC direct but as Which? Magazine points out in their article, clever people get caught out all the time by fake websites. It’s difficult to be safe all the time. If you think you’ve been caught out, take screenshots, contact your card issuer and raise a case with Trading Standards. And remember when you’re searching for EHIC card websites: it is FREE. Here’s the government website which confirms this: https://www.gov.uk/european-health-insurance-card
Have you ever been fooled by a fake website? Please share your story in the comments.