West Africa takes lead in fighting "419" scams

Posted by Bill Harmon
Associate General Counsel, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit
As the new associate general counsel of Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, I’m excited about the opportunities we have to make the Internet a safer place for everyone, whether you own an online business, advertise online, shop online or simply use the Internet to check e-mail.  
Unfortunately, criminals remain hard at work on creative ways to bilk unsuspecting victims out of large sums of hard-earned money through a wide array of Internet scams and security threats. In many cases, these schemes illegally exploit the brands of trusted companies and defraud people on the scale of millions of dollars.

Advance fee fraud is one of the most common and notorious scams.  Also known as “419 scams” or “Nigerian scams,” advance fee fraud usually comes in the form of an e-mail designed to deceive people into believing that they stand to receive a large sum of money if they pay a smaller sum of money up front to realize a sizeable payoff somewhere down the road. 
Of course, the big payoff never comes and the money paid up front is gone forever.  Common forms of this fraud include claims that you just won a fictitious lottery, you received an inheritance from a relative you’ve never heard of or there’s someone stranded in a “foreign” country with a large sum of money and they need your help getting back into the country.  As my colleague, Tim Cranton, mentioned in a prior post, these scams are often associated with the West African nation of Nigeria. These scams have damaged Nigeria’s reputation but the country is stepping up to confront the problem.  
This week in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, hundreds of people will come together from all over West Africa and around the world to help combat this problem at the first West African Cybercrime Summit. With the vice president of Nigeria in attendance, participants will examine the advance fee fraud problem, and work to further legitimate economic opportunities and alternatives for West Africans. 
This is an important issue for Microsoft. We work hand-in-hand with international stakeholders on programs to fight Internet fraud in West Africa, and we are proud to co-sponsor this event with the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.  We believe in empowering individuals with the knowledge and resources necessary to make good choices and take active steps to enhance the integrity of the Internet marketplace.
For more information on the advance fee fraud problem and how this summit will help, a news release can be found here.
If you are interested in digital crime issues, we welcome you to follow the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit on Facebook and Twitter at facebook.com/MicrosoftDCU and twitter.com/MicrosoftDCU.  You can also follow Microsoft Africa at twitter.com/MicrosoftAfrica to stay up to speed on what’s happening in the region.

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