- A US District Court in Pennsylvania has ordered a cyberscammer to stop a scheme that used common misspellings of legitimate domain names to trap users into sites that bombarded them with adult-oriented pop-up ads.
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania also ordered the defendant, John Zuccarini, to pay nearly $US1.9 million. But it was unclear whether the FTC will be able to collect the money. An FTC spokeswoman says Zuccarini didn't show up in court Friday.
The court order permanently bars Zuccarini from redirecting or obstructing consumers on the internet in connection with the advertising, promoting, selling or providing of any goods or services on the internet, the World Wide Web, or any web page or website, and from launching the websites of others without their permission.
Last October, the FTC filed a complaint against Zuccarini in federal court for registering common misspellings of legitimate domain names, including 41 variations of pop star Britney Spears' name, to divert users from their intended Internet destinations to one of his sites. Once there, Zuccarini allegedly used programming code on the sites that made it difficult for users to close their browsers or go back to a previous page, essentially holding them captive. He then hit them with a barrage of pop-up ads for pornography, gambling sites and psychic services, says the FTC.
The FTC estimated that Zuccarini earned between $US800,000 and $US1 million annually from the scheme by charging advertisers whose banner ads and affiliate programs appear on his site.
The FTC says in one case, 32 separate windows popped up when an investigator visited one of the misspelled sites. Sometimes the intended site would open in one of the windows, causing users to think the barrage of ads came from the legitimate site.
The FTC says there have been 63 previous lawsuits against Zuccarini for the same practices in the past two years, and he lost 53 of those cases. Zuccarini has had almost 200 of his domain names transferred to the rightful trademark owners, the FTC says.
Zuccarini couldn't be located for comment.
FTC attorney Marc Groman says Zuccarini is still operating in violation of the court order. And in order for the FTC to enforce the order it must serve Zuccarini with court papers, which it has so far been unable to do, Groman says.
"We don't know where he is, but we will find him," Groman says. "I don't know if it will be today or tomorrow, but we will find him."
Groman says he couldn't comment on how the FTC expects to collect the $US1.9 million from Zuccarini.