US FTC cracks down on "trap" websites

The US Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint in Federal court against a 'cyberscammer' for registering common misspellings of legitimate domains, including 41 variations of pop star Britney Spears' name, in order to trap users into sites that produced dozens of pop-up ads.

          The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a complaint in Federal court against a "cyberscammer" for registering common misspellings of legitimate domains, including 41 variations of pop star Britney Spears' name, in order to trap users into sites that produced dozens of pop-up ads.

          The FTC filed the complaint against John Zuccarini, who has done business under a number of different company names, according to a statement released this week by the agency. Zuccarini registered more than 5500 domain names designed to divert web surfers from the sites they were trying to reach, the FTC says. When users went to the sites inadvertently, they were hit with a barrage of pop-up advertisements for pornography, gambling sites and psychic services.

          The FTC estimates Zuccarini earns between $US800,000 and $US1 million annually from the scheme, charging advertisers whose banner ads and affiliate programs appear on his site. The FTC will seek a court order to force the defendant to give up his "ill-gotten gains," it says.

          In one case, an FTC investigator visited one of the misspelled sites and 29 different pop-up windows opened, the FTC says. Sometimes the intended site would open in one of the windows, making users think that the barrage of ads was from the legitimate site. The practice could expose children to pornography and cause workers inadvertently to break company rules against visiting pornography or gambling sites, the agency says.

          At the request of the FTC, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania prohibited Zuccarini's practices pending further order of the court. The FTC believes the court will force Zuccarini to shut down the sites permanently.

          There have been 63 previous law suits against Zuccarini in the last two years for the same practice, and he lost in 53 of the cases, the FTC says. Zuccarini has also had almost 200 of his domain names transferred to the rightful trademark owners, the agency adds.

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