MILLIONS of holidaymakers are being duped into paying for EU health cards which are free from the NHS.
Unofficial websites – often more prominent than the official NHS site – are charging unwitting consumers up to 23 euros for the cards.
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles Brits to medical treatment for free or at reduced cost and is in high demand as people head to destinations including Spain for their summer holidays.
Surprisingly, the ruse is legal as long as the private operators state in the small print that the cards are available for free from the NHS, watchdog Consumer Focus has discovered.
A spokesman said: “At a conservative estimate millions of pounds are paid on an annual basis.
“Even the most sophisticated end-user can be caught out and effectively tricked into paying an unnecessary additional fee.”
The EHIC allows access to state-provided healthcare in all European countries.
Without it, a traveller may be charged for treatment.
Websites including www.e111.org.uk and www.nhs-ehic.org are among those charging for the cards, previously known as an E111.
The firms then simply copy the details into the official NHS application form, which processes the application and sends the card directly to the customer.
The Department of Health said: “The government is very aware of the problem.”
People looking to apply for a free EHIC should visit www.ehic.org.uk or www.nhs.uk and follow the links.