|An elusive Internet scam artist has been ordered to pay almost $1.9 million to victims and banned from further exploiting thousands of internet users who misspelled Web addresses and were tricked into internet casinos and other adult sites, federal regulators announced Friday. |
Federal Trade Commission lawyers sued John Zuccarini of Andalusia, Pa., last October to stop the scheme.
Zuccarini set up Web sites that were mis-spellings of popular names, including youngsters sites such as fourteen variations on the name of Britney Spears, and fifteen variations of the Cartoon Network.
Visitors who inadvertently misspelled a site's name, which also included the Wall Street Journal, went to Zuccarini's site and were barraged with a hailstorm of pop-up ads for Internet gambling and pornography.
Once consumers were taken to one of the defendant's sites, it was very difficult for them to exit. In a move called 'mousetrapping,' special programming code at the sites obstructed surfers' ability to close their browser or go back to the previous page. Clicks on the 'close' or 'back' buttons caused new windows to open.
'After one FTC staff member closed out of 32 separate windows, leaving just two windows on the task bar, he selected the 'back' button, only to watch the same seven windows that initiated the blitz erupt on his screen, and the cybertrap began anew,' according to papers filed with the court. The FTC alleged that the practices were unfair and deceptive, in violation of federal law.
FTC investigators said Zuccarini makes from $800,000 to $1 million per year by charging advertisers whose ads appear on the browser windows.
The court order permanently bars the defendant from: redirecting or obstructing consumers on the Internet in connection with the advertising, promoting, offering for sale, selling, or providing any goods or services on the Internet, the World Wide Web or any Web page or Web site; and launching the Web sites of others without their permission.
Companies targeted by Zuccarini's scam have filed scores of complaints with regulators and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, an oversight body that handles Internet addresses. The FTC said Zuccarini has lost 53 state and federal lawsuits and has had about 200 Web addresses taken from him and transferred to copyright holders.
It is unclear whether the FTC will be able to collect the money, which is earmarked for consumer redress.
Zuccarini has since gone missing. He never appeared on his own or through a lawyer in the Pennsylvania federal court handling the case, even though witnesses testified that he was notified of the suit.
Florida lawyer Howard Neu, who once represented Zuccarini, said he had 'not the foggiest' idea where Zuccarini is.
Zuccarini does business under disguises, including The Country
Walk, JZDesign, RaveClub Berlin, and 22 sites using the word ‘cupcake’.
Victims of the cyberscheme should contact the FTC toll-free at 1-877-382-4357 and use the FTC's case name, 'Cupcake Party.'