As the global economy sinks deeper into crisis, security experts are warning that online scams are on the rise -- particularly "lottery" scams, in which a fraudster claims recipients have won lots of money but requires an up-front payment to assist in processing or transfers.
In response, Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) have temporarily put aside their differences. The two are teaming up to educate consumers about the perils of lottery scams while working with Interpol and national law enforcement groups.
As major providers of free, Web-based e-mail accounts, both online giants are in a position to alert users to the hazards of "too good to be true" offers received via unsolicited e-mail, and to also help law enforcement catch suspected fraudsters, who often rely on the companies' e-mail services to send their messages.
Yahoo and Microsoft also joined forces with two large financial groups with a stake in curbing the scam -- Western Union and the African Development Bank. "People have been trying to get victims to transfer money through these organizations," Risher explained.
The effort comes at a time when online scams are proliferating and more likely to succeed because of economic conditions, the companies said.
Spam constitutes 80 percent of all e-mails sent, and about seven percent of spam is related to the lottery scam and its close cousin, the "419" scam, Dermott Harnett, security vendor Symantec's principal analyst for antispam engineering, told InternetNews.com. In a 419 scam, the spammer offers a share of a multimillion-dollar sum if the target can pay them a small, advance fee to help them move the money out of their country. The con is named after the 4.1.9 section of the penal code of Nigeria, where many such scams originated, according to spam-fighting organization Spamhaus.
According to Trend Micro spokesperson Michael Sweeny, "multiple tens of millions" of such scam e-mails are sent daily. Many of these drop the names of major financial institutions in an effort to appear more credible.
Yahoo, Microsoft, Western Union and the African Development Bank "share a common interest in addressing cybercrime and online scams," William Godbout, chief security officer at African Development Bank, said in a statement.
"There has been an exponential increase in the volume of online criminal activity using our trademark. Although there is no financial loss to the bank, these crimes impact our reputation and image," Godbout said. "The reputation of African banking, of African development institutions and of the African continent in general are significantly jeopardized by the explosion in cybercrime falsely using African entities."
Spokespeople for the European offices of Western Union and the African Development Bank could not be reached for additional comment.