- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

The Federal Trade Commission is tracking down a suburban Philadelphia businessman it says has scammed tens of thousands of consumers by trapping them on Web sites and bombarding them with advertisements for everything from gambling to pornography.
FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris yesterday accused John Zuccarini of deceptive trade practices by diverting consumers to more than 5,500 Web sites he operates and bombarding them with unsolicited ads.
"This scheme prevents consumers from controlling their Internet browsers, invades their privacy, robs them of their time, exposes kids to pornography and violates trademark rights. This scam, and ones like it, undermine consumer confidence in the Internet," Mr. Muris said.
The FTC filed a complaint last week with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, and a judge has granted a temporary restraining order against Mr. Zuccarini, of Andalusia, Pa.
Mr. Zuccarini ropes people into his Web sites when they misspell the name of the site they intended to go to, FTC lawyer Marc M. Groman said.
The scheme is targeted at children. Mr. Zuccarini has registered 15 Web addresses that are variations on a popular site for children, www.cartoonnetwork.com, and 41 Web addresses with variations in the spelling of Britney Spears.
Surfers who spell the name of those Web sites incorrectly are taken to a site operated by Mr. Zuccarini. When they try to leave the site, they are trapped, the FTC argued in its complaint. The standard methods used to leave a site simply led Web surfers to another site operated by Mr. Zuccarini.
Once on a site, consumers are flooded with ads faster than they can close them, Mr. Groman said. A copycat site registered by Mr. Zuccarini with the misspelled name of tennis professional Anna Kournikova caused 29 ads to pop open during the agency's investigation, Mr. Muris said.
Mr. Muris said the scheme is particularly harmful to children because they can be exposed to pornography, and to employees, who could be diverted to sites their employers prohibit them from viewing.
Mr. Zuccarini has earned from $800,000 to $1 million a year by getting Web surfers to click on ads, according to testimony he provided in a separate case against him last year. It is not clear the advertisers he does business with know about his tactics, the FTC said.
Despite the temporary restraining order issued against Mr. Zuccarini, some of his Web sites still are in operation. He has not been served with the order because the FTC can't find him.
Mr. Zuccarini's 5,500 Web sites funnel people to just two Web sites. Those were shut down by the FTC last Friday, but Mr. Zuccarini has started more.
"It is our understanding he can operate his scheme with a laptop wherever he can get up and running," Mr. Groman said.
The court also said it is temporarily prohibiting Mr. Zuccarini from registering any more domain names.
Mr. Zuccarini has been sued at least 62 times in the past two years by people trying to shut down Web sites he registered that use misspelled variations of popular names, Mr. Groman said. He lost 56 of those suits as of August.
In 198 disputes over domain names, he has been ordered to forgive rights to 185 domain names, Mr. Groman said.
The FTC began investigating Mr. Zuccarini in March, after an investigator misspelled the name of a Web site and inadvertently ended up at a site operated by Mr. Zuccarini.

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