Pfizer and Microsoft are teaming up to fight the slew of spam e-mails hawking Viagra that invade consumers' computers. The companies said yesterday...

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NEW YORK — Pfizer and Microsoft are teaming up to fight the slew of spam e-mails hawking Viagra that invade consumers’ computers.

The companies said yesterday that they had filed a total of 17 lawsuits in New York and Washington state against defendants involved in the sale and distribution of the blockbuster erectile dysfunction drug.

Lawsuits by Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Microsoft, EarthLink and America Online have become commonplace since the passage of federal and state anti-spam laws. But this is the first time an ISP has joined a major retailer to attack the entire supply chain of online scams.

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As many as one in every four spam e-mails advertise Viagra, Microsoft and Pfizer said.

Consumers often mistakenly think the e-mails are sent by New York-based Pfizer and that the drugs they order through these online pharmacies are legitimate, said Beth Levine, Pfizer’s general counsel for U.S. pharmaceuticals.

“The consumer is most often completely unaware that the product they receive in a plain, brown envelope is illegally shipped from across the globe,” Levine said.

Pfizer filed a dozen lawsuits against Internet pharmacies and spammers, while Microsoft filed five.

Most of the defendants were targeted by only one lawsuit. But two online sites — CanadianPharmacy and E-Pharmacy Direct — were the subject of lawsuits by both Microsoft and Pfizer.

Aaron Kornblum, Microsoft’s Internet safety-enforcement attorney, said Microsoft and Pfizer don’t know the identities of many of the spammers and of the people running the online pharmacies.

Several of the Web sites were registered to real people without their knowledge, Kornblum said.

Filing the lawsuits allows Microsoft and Pfizer to subpoena Internet service providers to help track down the defendants, Kornblum said.

“This is the first time that we’ve had this cross-industry partnership to target the entire spam supply chain,” he said.

Besides CanadianPharmacy and E-Pharmacy Direct, the lawsuits target 10 other online pharmacies, including half-price-viagra.com and cheapviagrastore.com.

Drug counterfeiting can put a big dent in the profits of pharmaceutical companies, said David Webster, president of Bethlehem, Pa.-based Webster Consulting.

“If Pfizer can make a marginal improvement in the counterfeiting of Viagra, that can translate into hundreds of millions of dollars” in recovered revenue, Webster said.