Hackers are using the pre-budget tax cuts expected to be announced by the Chancellor of Exchequer as a way of extracting personal information from web users that could be used for identity theft, says Sophos.

Security firm said emails that claim to come from the 'UK Government & Ministry of Finance' are being received across the country. The emails offer recipients a tax return of between £450 and £650 for "family maintenance".

The email is directing net users to a web page, where they are being asked to enter personal information including age, marital status and number of children.

According to Sophos, this information can be used by cybercriminals in a bid to commit ID theft.

"At a time when many people will be uncertain about their finances and job security, cybercriminals have clearly been quick to take advantage of the situation," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

"As the government is expected to make announcements relating to recession-busting tax cuts, those eager for the bigger picture should monitor official channels and ignore any unsolicited emails asking for personal details. This campaign, coming in the run-up to Christmas, also takes advantage of the trend for special-offers and vouchers to be circulated via email - computer users should do their best to stay mindful of the risks."

See also: Hackers use Google to get sensitive data