A federal court has ordered the shutdown of a company accused by the Federal Trade Commission of hijacking Web surfers on their way to their intended online destinations and barraging them with pop-up ads.
U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller in Philadelphia ordered John Zuccarini, who is charged with operating about 5,500 copycat Web sites, to permanently cease diverting and obstructing consumers on the Internet, the FTC said last week. Zuccarini must give up about $1.9 million he took in through his scheme and submit to certain bookkeeping requirements.
Zuccarini, a Pennsylvania man, operated under more than 22 business names, including The Country Walk, JZDesign and RaveClub Berlin, the FTC said.
The URLs of Zuccarini's Web sites were variations or misspellings of popular Web sites, the FTC said. Some of the sites Zuccarini targeted were popular children's destinations, including Cartoonnetwork.com, according to the charges.
Zuccarini also registered 41 variations of the name Britney Spears, the FTC said.
The variations on the legitimate URLs were intended to capture consumers who misspelled the Web address or typed it incorrectly. Once there, users' computer screens would fill with a rapid succession of new windows displaying pop-up ads for Internet gambling, pornography and other services, the FTC said.
Internet users thus ensnared faced difficulty trying to leave, the FTC said. Using a programming technique called “mousetrapping,” Zuccarini designed his pop-up ads to spawn new ads when users tried to close them, the FTC said.
“After one FTC staff member closed out 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,” the FTC said in papers filed with the court.
Zuccarini's Web sites sometimes also launched the legitimate Web site that the user had originally tried to reach, the FTC said. This tactic led many users to mistakenly think that the legitimate Web site was responsible for the pop-ups ads, according to the FTC.