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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
US chases domain name schemer
Pop artiste Britney Spears performing with snake at the MTV video awards
Britney Spears: 41 variations of her name registered
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

US legal authorities are appealing for help in tracking down John Zuccarini, who they say is making more than a million dollars a year from a collection of misspelled domain names.

Mr Zuccarini is accused of using misnamed domain names to divert browsers to sites that bombard web surfers with pop-up adverts for gambling and porn.

Many of the sites he owns are misspellings of the names of pop singers, film stars, TV channels, and popular television shows.

The Federal Trade Commission is now looking for ways to recover the cash Mr Zuccarini has made from the domain names.

Psychics and porn

Mr Zuccarini has been practising a novel variation of cybersquatting which usually involves gaining control of a website that you have no real claim to, and then offering it for sale to the rightful owner at a premium.

The domains registered by Mr Zuccarini were typically misspellings of well-known names. Mr Zuccarini has reportedly registered 15 variations of the spelling of Cartoon Network TV channel, and 41 of pop star Britney Spears.

Anyone who unknowingly typed in the name of one of Mr Zuccarini's misspelled domains would not see the site they expected, but instead would trigger the creation of many other pages advertising all kinds of dubious services.

"Schemes that capture consumers and hold them at sites against their will while exposing internet users, including children, to solicitations for gambling, psychics, lotteries, and pornography must be stopped," said Timothy J Muris, FTC Chairman.

Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman successfully sued Mr Zuccarini
One investigator working for the US legal agency who looked at a domain using an incorrect spelling of tennis player Anna Kournikova was rewarded with 29 windows of adverts.

FTC documents reveal that over 63 lawsuits have been filed against Mr Zuccarini for his practice of registering incorrectly spelled domain names and then using them to launch the deluge of adverts.

Mr Zuccarini has lost 53 of the lawsuits and has been told to return over 200 domain names to the rightful trademark owner, company or celebrity.

Following a seven-month investigation, the FTC has won a court order against Mr Zuccarini. It wants him to cease trading and return the reputed $1m a year he is earning from his activities.

However, the FTC is having trouble finding Mr Zuccarini and so far the court order has not been served on him.

The FTC said anyone who had been a victim of the pop-up trick or had information as to his whereabouts should contact them.

See also:

03 Aug 01 | Film
The Kidman and Sykes show
03 Sep 01 | Business
UN calls for web name controls
20 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Tory MP admits net porn 'fascination'
24 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
US acts against 'page-jack' fraud
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