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October 01, 2001 11:02am
U.S. FTC shuts down thousands of deceptive Web sites
Source: Reuters

(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. court shut down thousands of Web sites after it determined that they diverted Web surfers and held them captive while bombarding them with ads for pornography and gambling, the U.S. government said on Monday.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, John Zuccarini, of Andalusia, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, operated more than 5,500 Web sites that diverted Web surfers from their intended destinations and exposed them to pop-up ads.

Zuccarini did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

Zuccarini registered many misspellings of popular sites, such as www.cartoonnetwork.com, the FTC said, in a bid to draw traffic from sloppy typists. Visitors to his sites often could not leave, as the ``back'' button on their Web browsers would be rigged to trigger more pop-up ads.

``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 as the same seven windows that initiated the blitz erupted on his screen, and the cybertrap began anew,'' the FTC said in its complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.

The scheme is especially harmful to children or employees who may put their jobs at risk when they inadvertently call up pornographic or gambling-related material, the FTC said.

The district court has ordered Zuccarini to take his sites offline, the FTC said, while the case continues. But as of early Monday afternoon, at least one site registered to Zuccarini, www.annakurnikova.com, was still functional.

Zuccarini had registered 41 variations on the name of pop star Britney Spears, the FTC said.

In its court action, the FTC is seeking to get Zuccarini to return the estimated $800,000 to $1 million he earns in advertising revenues.

According to the FTC, Zuccarini has been sued at least 63 times in the last two years by trademark owners, celebrities or others seeking to recover variants of their Internet domain names. He has lost 53 of those suits and been forced to return nearly 200 domain names, the FTC said.

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