FTC Suit Targets Pop-up Ads

2 October 2001
Internet gambling advertisements made up a significant portion of the Web pages a Pennsylvania man used to bombard visitors to his almost 6,000 domain names, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday.

John Zuccarini of Andalusia, Pa. was charged by the FTC with violating federal law last week, and a U.S. District Court on Sept. 25 granted the agency a temporary restraining order that forces Zuccarini to take down his Web pages.

Marc Groman, the FTC lawyer who is lead counsel for the case, said the temporary restraining order lasts until Oct. 9, when the FTC will seek a preliminary injunction to prevent Zuccarini’s from reposting his Web pages pending a trial.

Zuccarini had operated thousands of domain names that consisted of misspellings of famous words or phrases, including 41 variations of the name of teen singer Britney Spears. If a Web user accidentally misspelled a domain name or inverted it, ending up on one of Zuccarini’s sites, he or she would have been faced with a rapid fire of ads for pornography, Internet gambling, psychics, prescription drugs and instant credit services, Groman said.

In a statement on Monday, Timothy J. Muris, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, said the practice trapped consumers.

“When consumers try to use any of the usual means of exiting a Web page, from clicking on the ‘close’ or ‘back’ buttons, to typing in a new URL, a new window will open. They’re just trapped,” he said. “Second, new ads are launched and appear on the task bar more quickly than consumers can shut down the original ones.”

Muris said one FTC employee visited one of Zuccarini’s sites, a misspelling of the name of tennis player Anna Kournikova, and 29 browser windows immediately opened.

Groman said most of Zuccarini’s domain names led to two bridge pages, which were shut down by the FTC on Friday. The bridge pages were what launched the cavalcade of advertisements.

The online casinos that were advertised included www.entercasino.com, www.ukcasinoclub.com, lasvegasline.com and www.iwin.com, Groman said.

The FTC may ultimately seek to strip Zuccarini of what earnings the sites brought him. The agency said Zuccarini has been sued at least 63 times in the last two years by trademark owners, celebrities and others seeking to recover variations of their Internet domain names. He has lost 53 of those cases and has been forced to return 200 domain names.

Muris said the FTC brought action because such practices undermine consumer confidence in the Internet.

“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,” he said. “In addition to violating the trademark rights of legitimate Web site owners, the defendant may have placed employees in peril by exposing them to sexually explicit sites and gambling sites on the job, in violation of company policies.”

Anne Lindner can be reached at anne@rivercitygroup.com.