The Internet's leading search engines are teaming up with an advertising trade group to find a better way to identify and measure "click fraud," a scam that has raised doubts about the Web's trustworthiness as a marketing vehicle.

The initiative will draw upon the expertise of Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. _ the owners of the top online search engines _ to attack a problem threatening to erode their profits. Combined, the three companies control 86 percent of the lucrative U.S. search engine market, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Two smaller search engines, InterActiveCorp.'s Ask.com and LookSmart Ltd., also have joined the alliance along with the Media Rating Council, a nonprofit group formed 42 years ago at the urging of Congress to help track and validate the sizes of advertising audiences.

The collaboration of three fierce rivals like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft shows how serious the industry has become about curbing click fraud before the issue squelches an online advertising boom that's enriching the search engines and their partners. Google, the pacesetting search engine, earned $1.3 billion on revenue of $4.7 billion through the first half of this year alone.

Click fraud has attracted an increasing amount of attention amid class-action lawsuits and industry studies asserting advertisers have been collectively overcharged by more than $1 billion for bogus sales leads during the past four years.

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