Microsoft working with Nigeria to crack down on scams

Information from the company already has resulted in the closing of three ISPs

The Nigerian government and Microsoft Corp. signed an agreement Friday calling for the software company to help law enforcement break up crime rings that use the Internet for fraud and theft.

It's the first-ever agreement that Microsoft has signed with an African country to aid law enforcement efforts, said Neil Holloway, Microsoft's Europe, Middle East and Africa president. Holloway spoke with Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, executive chairman of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and Ambassador M.K. Ndanusa at the Nigerian High Commission in London.

Scams originating in Nigeria such as those called "419," which often seek to coax gullible e-mail users into revealing sensitive financial data, have done "unquestionable damage to our country's image," Ribadu said. The EFCC was created two years ago to address Internet crime, money laundering and corruption.

Microsoft's aid will include providing information to law enforcement officials in addition to training, Holloway said. The company has already been working with Nigerian authorities over the past three to six months, he said.

"We think we have a responsibility ... to make an impact in this particular area," Holloway said.

Information contributed by Microsoft already has resulted in the shutdown of three Internet service providers, Ribadu said. Since Nigeria created the EFCC, 17 people have been tried and convicted for Internet-related crime, and up to 1,000 are in jail awaiting trials. He said the country has moved to deny bail to those accused of computer-related crime.

"Unfortunately, we did not do anything for a very long period of time," Ribadu said, noting that scams started as far back as 18 years ago in Nigeria. "But in the last few years, things have changed."

The average sentence of those who have been convicted is around seven years, Ribadu said. The government also seizes properties and other assets of criminals. The Nigerian government has returned stolen funds to victims in Hong Kong, the U.K. and Brazil, he said.

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