The warning comes as HMRC has launched an advertising campaign to remind claimants to renew their tax credits or their payments might stop.
During last year’s tax credits renewals period, from April to July, nearly 22,000 phishing emails were reported to HMRC. Although the department worked with other agencies to shut down more than 147 scam websites during the period, others continue to be created.
Phishing emails often promise money back and, if the recipient clicks on a link, they are taken to a fake replica of the HMRC website. They are then asked to provide credit or debit card details or other sensitive information such as passwords. The fraudsters then try to take money from their account.
Money may be stolen from victims’ bank accounts, or their personal details can be sold to criminal gangs, leading to possible identify theft.
Nick Lodge, Director General of Benefits and Credits, said:
HMRC will never ask you to disclose personal or payment information by email. We are committed to your online security but the methods fraudsters use to obtain information are constantly changing, so you need to be alert. Anyone who receives this type of email should send it to email@example.com.
HMRC works with law enforcement agencies in the UK and overseas to shut down phishing attacks. Scam websites have been closed down in countries including Austria, Mexico, the UK, South Korea, the USA, Thailand, Eastern Europe and Japan.
HMRC asks customers to:
Advice can also be found on the Get Safe Online website.
If someone believes that they have been the victim of an email scam, they should report the matter to their bank or credit card issuer immediately. Anyone in doubt should check with HMRC
Scam emails often request name, address, date of birth, bank account number, sort code, credit card details, national insurance number, passwords and mother’s maiden name.
HMRC took action to close down 522 illegal sites in 2012, which showed emails originated from the USA, Russia and Japan, as well as central and eastern Europe.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the US claim nearly 500 million phishing emails are distributed every day.