Tax credit claimants in Lincolnshire have been cautioned over an e-mail phishing scam sent out by cybercriminals in the period leading up to the 31 July deadline for renewing their tax credits, the Lincolnshire Echo reported.

The scam e-mails claim that people will get money back if the recipient clicks on a link which leads to a website that looks exactly like the genuine HMRC website. Users are then asked to provide credit card details or other sensitive data, including passwords. This information can help the cybercriminals commit credit card fraud and steal money from the victim.

Fraudsters often ask for a name, date of birth, address, bank account number, national insurance number, mother’s maiden name or sort code. All of these details can be sold onto criminal organisations, which can result in identity theft.

During the April to July renewal period of last year, as many as 24,839 phishing e-mails were reported to the HMRC. In May 2014 alone, the number of such e-mails reached 11,219 – a rise of 131.32% compared to those reported in the same period of 2013.

The HMRC has taken measures to address the problem and has teamed up with other agencies to close 611 scam websites during the 2013 renewal period. However, other websites are constantly being created.

HMRC shut down a total of 1,740 counterfeit websites last year, many of which originated from Spain, Bulgaria and Turkey, but also from the UK and the US.

Any suspicious emails should be forwarded to the HMRC at phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and immediately deleted, as some include an attachment containing a virus. Users are advised not to respond to such e-mails.