The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged a cyber-scammer who used more than 5500 copycat web addresses to divert surfers from their intended destinations to one of his sites and hold them captive while bombarding them with ads for gambling and pornography.
According to the FTC, John Zuccarini, of Pennsylvania, operated the websites which pelted users' screens with a barrage of ads.
"Schemes that capture consumers and hold them at sites against their will while exposing users, including children, to solicitations for gambling, psychics, lotteries and pornography must be stopped," said FTC chairman Timothy Muris.
He explained that the scheme prevents consumers from controlling their browsers, invades their privacy, wastes their time, exposes kids to ads for pornography and violates trademark rights.
The FTC said that Zuccarini registered many misspellings of popular sites, such as registering 15 variations of children's cartoon site www.Cartoonnetwork.com, and 41 variations on the name of teen pop star Britney Spears.
According to the documents filed, once consumers are taken to one of Zuccarini's sites it is very difficult for them to exit. In a move called 'mousetrapping', special programming code at the sites prevents surfers from closing their browser or using the 'back' button.
One FTC investigator entered one of the defendant's copycat domain names, annakurnikova.com, and 29 browser windows opened automatically.
The FTC estimates that the defendant earns between $800,000 and $1m a year from his scheme, charging advertisers whose banner ads and affiliate programs are included on his websites.
According to documents filed by the FTC, Zuccarini has been sued no fewer than 63 times in the last two years, including seven federal district court cases and 56 arbitration proceedings. He has lost 53 of those suits and been forced to return nearly 200 domain names.
The complaint names Zuccarini, doing business as The Country Walk, JZDesign, RaveClub Berlin and more than 22 names that incorporate the word 'cupcake', such as Cupcake Party, Cupcake Parties and Cupcake Incident.
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