Order Bars Operator From Hijacking, Mousetrapping Surfers
A U.S. District Court has ordered the perpetrator of an Internet scheme to halt his illegal practices. The defendant employed more than 5,500 copycat Web addresses to divert surfers from their intended Internet destinations to one of his sites, and hold them captive while he pelted their screens with a barrage of adult-oriented ads. At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, the court permanently barred the defendant from diverting or obstructing consumers on the Internet and from launching Web sites or Web pages that belong to unrelated third parties. The court also has barred the defendant from participating in advertising affiliate programs on the Internet, and has ordered him to give up more than $1.8 million in ill-gotten gains.
In October 2001, the FTC charged that the defendant, John Zuccarini, was registering Internet domain names that were misspellings of legitimate domain names or that incorporated transposed or inverted words or phrases. For example, Zuccarini registered 15 variations of the popular children's cartoon site, www.cartoonnetwork.com, and 41 variations on the name of teen pop star, Britney Spears. Surfers who looked for a site but misspelled its Web address or inverted a term - using cartoonjoe.com, for example, rather than joecartoon.com - were taken to the defendant's sites. They then were bombarded with a rapid series of windows displaying ads for goods and services ranging from Internet gambling to pornography. In some cases, the legitimate Web site the consumer was attempting to access also was launched, so consumers thought the hailstorm of ads to which they were being exposed was from a legitimate Web site.
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.
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. The defendant will be required to give up $1,897,166 in ill-gotten gains. The court also ordered certain bookkeeping and record-keeping requirements to allow the FTC to monitor the defendant's compliance with the court's order.
Consumers who believe they are victims of this cyberscheme should contact the FTC at 202-326-2560 or toll-free at its Consumer Response Center (CRC) at 1-877-FTC-HELP and reference the FTC's case name, "Cupcake Party."
The Commission's complaint names John Zuccarini, doing business as The Country Walk, JZDesign, RaveClub Berlin, and more than 22 names incorporating the word "Cupcake," including Cupcake Party, Cupcake-Party, Cupcake Parties, Cupcake Patrol, Cupcake Incident, and Cupcake Messenger.
The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller signed the order.
Copies of the complaint and Judgment and Permanent Injunction are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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