Internet portal Yahoo! has taken the unusual step of filing a lawsuit against a number of unnamed individuals and companies engaged in the fake lottery scam. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in New York City, under the Federal Trademark Act, the Federal CAN-SPAM Act, and related state laws.

The suit targets those who used "Yahoo! Lottery" as the name of their fake lottery. It says the defendants unlawfully sent e-mail messages to Internet users for the purpose of deceiving them into believing that they have won a lottery or prize offered by Yahoo!.

The complaint alleges that without permission or authorization, and with full knowledge and notice of Yahoo!'s trademark rights, the spammers willfully masqueraded as Yahoo!, and sent e-mails claiming that the recipient had won a lottery, prize or other award from Yahoo!.

"Yahoo! does not offer any such awards and has no affiliation or any connection with the spammers or their e-mail communications," the company said in a statement.

The fake lottery scam is a well-established hoax designed to trick unsuspecting e-mail users into revealing valuable personal data like passwords, credit card information, and social security numbers.

Commonly known as a "phishing" scam, in this confidence game, perpetrators typically use the stolen information to access recipients' bank accounts and credit cards, to apply for unauthorized credit cards or loans, or to fraudulently create documents bearing the victims' personal identification and then use or sell it in a wide variety of credit and identity scams. Some of the "winners" are also deceived into sending the defendants money for processing and mailing charges.

Though it has been around for years and has been widely reported, the fake lottery scam continues to rake in millions for scammers. The fake lottery scam topped's Top 10 Scams of 2006.

"The unauthorized use of Yahoo!'s trademarks is misleading, fraudulent, and has actually confused, misled, and deceived the public. Yahoo! will vigorously enforce its intellectual property rights and will not tolerate lottery hoax emails," said Joe Siino, Senior Vice President, Yahoo! Global IP and Business Strategy.

"Yahoo! is 100 percent committed to protecting our users from fraudulent e-mail messages and this lawsuit sends a clear message to spammers," said John Kremer, Vice President, Yahoo! Mail. "We are going after individuals who have attempted to negatively impact the e-mail experience for consumers across the Internet. Through our continued litigation efforts, our top goal and priority is to further protect Yahoo! Mail users and the public from this type of fraudulent activity."

As any law school graduate will tell you, it is often difficult to successfully sue someone unless you know their identity. Yahoo said it is currently trying to learn the identity of the defendants, who often employ third-party email services or hijacked computers, to send out their spam.

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