Nigeria enlists Microsoft to fight spam scammers

Software maker will pitch in to nab those behind the junk e-mails that promise a windfall if you deposit cash in a bank account.

Microsoft is planning to work with the Nigerian government to help track down and prosecute criminals involved in e-mail scams and other Internet-based fraud originating from the African country.

Microsoft will provide technical expertise, training and other security resources to Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which is tasked with fighting cybercrime in the country.

Nigeria was initially slow to respond to the problem of "419" e-mail scammers operating in the country, who were duping unsuspecting Internet users out of thousands of pounds by promising a share of the secret multimillion-pound fortune of a deposed African dictator.

The EFCC is now at the forefront of that battle and has arrested more than 1,000 people, brought 300 prosecutions and seized a billion dollars in assets--but that has still only resulted in 17 convictions to date.

In an interview at the Nigerian Embassy in London on Friday, Nuhu Ribadu, executive chairman of the EFCC, said it is a "painful" problem for Nigeria.

"Nigeria is one country where there are examples of everything that is bad when it comes to technology," he said. "It's a big, big problem for us. 419 scams are still the main problem, but we are also witnessing other problems, such as credit card fraud and lottery scams, as well as the hacking and cloning of Web sites."

Ribadu said that is now changing for the better, with new legislation that allows the government to prosecute anyone helping to facilitate the scammers--from cybercafe owners to Internet service providers.

He said: "We are also getting technology to help us filter these scams at the cybercafe-level. We will go after anyone doing this. The measures are starting to show. The scammers are moving out of the country. Things are changing a lot and changing our lives."

Neil Holloway, president of Microsoft in Europe, Middle East and Africa, said the agreement with the Nigerian government is part of Microsoft's wider security strategy, which includes rewards for bringing prosecutions against virus writers.

Holloway acknowledged that Internet-based fraud is a global problem, but said Nigeria is an important battleground and added that the partnership, which has been under way for six months, has already led to the closure of three ISPs in Nigeria that were being used by scammers.

"We have to work on point solutions instead of a grand scheme," he said. "We think that's going to help investment in Nigeria and benefit the economy."

Holloway said Microsoft will look to work with other governments in similar initiatives in the future.

Andy McCue of reported from London.

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