Microsoft has initiated 97 lawsuits throughout Europe and the Middle East during its eight-month investigation into fraudulent web pages, with another 32 criminal complaints filed in co-operation with local authorities, the company said on Wednesday.

All the cases are against individuals who attempted to capture the log-in and password details of users by constructing fraudulent Hotmail and sign-in pages, said Jean-Christophe Le Toquin, a Microsoft attorney. A total of 253 sites were investigated, he said.

Microsoft's Global Phishing Enforcement program, started in March, aims to curtail fake sites built by criminals trying to obtain financial information or passwords by tricking users, so-called “phishing.” The company uses its technology to trawl the internet to find pages that look suspicious, Le Toquin said.

Once a phishing site has been identified, Microsoft either files a criminal complaint or forwards the information to prosecutors, depending on the country’s legal requirements, Le Toquin said.

By country, Turkey led the pack with 50 criminal complaints, followed by 28 in Germany and 11 in France. Legal actions were also filed in the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Morocco, the Netherlands and the UK.

Microsoft has settled with four phishers, all 16- to 20-year-old males, in France and Norway, Le Toquin said. Each of those pursued in France paid Microsoft €2,000, a fine the company felt is in proportion to their actions, he said.

Many of the fake sites were created by the phishers to trick their peers into divulging log-in credentials, Le Toquin said. The phishers would try to lure their friends to the fake pages through links sent by instant messaging programs, he said.

The purpose was to “take control of the account of the victim,” Le Toquin said.

Microsoft said it will continue its investigation, particularly focusing on phishing sites connected with more sophisticated hacking, Le Toquin said.