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Serial typosquatter settles FTC charges

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An internet hijacker who allegedly registered 5,500 copycat web addresses in a bid to divert lost surfers onto a porno site has agreed to hand over $164,000 to settle charges brought against him by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Defendant John Zuccarini also agreed to refrain from dodgy business practices and abide by an enhanced compliance and monitoring regime as part of his settlement with the FTC, which sued him for contempt of a previous court injunction banning similar dodgy business practices, dating from 2002.

Zuccarini was jailed for 30 months for possession of child pornography and other offences related to the same illicit business in August 2003.

Legal actions against Zuccarini, involving separate civil and criminal prosecutions, began in October 2001 when the FTC charged him with registering misspellings of legitimate domain names as part of a typosquatting ruse. For example, the defendant registered 15 variations of the popular children's cartoon site, www.cartoonnetwork.com, and 41 variations on the name of pop star Britney Spears.

Surfers who misspelled the web address of sites or inverted a term – using cartoonjoe.com rather than joecartoon.com – were taken to the defendant's sites, where they were bombarded with pop-up ads punting anything from internet gambling to pornography. In some cases the legitimate website was also launching, tricking consumers to believe it was responsible for the smut-filed pop-ups.

The FTC obtained a permanent injunction against Zuccarini in May 2002 along with a court order requiring him to hand over $1.8m in illicit income. The court also imposed book keeping requirements on Zuccarini so the FTC was able to monitor his compliance with the court's order.

Zuccarini was jailed for 30 months and ordered to serve a subsequent three years on probation after being found guilty of possession of child pornography and misleading use of domain names in August 2003. The case was brought against Zuccarini by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York in a separate prosecution.

The defendant's spell behind bars failed to act as a sufficient deterrent, it appears. By December 2006, Zuccarini was once again the subject of FTC complaint that he was redirecting lost surfers to dodgy sites. The agency also charged that Zuccarini had failed to keep up with record-keeping and reporting requirements in the original order. The FTC alleged that Zuccarini, both individually and doing business as Cupcake Party, was back in the typosquating business.

The court issued a temporary restraining order designed to bring a stop to prohibited business practices, freeze Zuccarini's assets, and mandate the preservation of records.

The settlement between Zuccarini and the FTC, announced on Tuesday, settles this action. ®

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