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Internet Scam Artist Fined $1.9M Fri May 24, 2:45 PM ET

By D. IAN HOPPER, AP Technology Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – An elusive Internet scam artist has been ordered to pay almost $1.9 million back to victims and stop a scheme that used thousands of misspelled Web addresses to trick Internet users into seeing adult advertisements, federal regulators announced Friday.

Federal Trade Commission lawyers sued John Zuccarini of Andalusia, Pa., last October to stop the scheme. Zuccarini set up Web sites that contained misspellings of popular names like the Backstreet Boys (news – web sites), Victoria’s Secret, Bank of America and The Wall Street Journal.

Visitors that inadvertently misspelled a site’s name, like victoreasecret.com instead of the lingerie retailer, went to Zuccarini’s site and were barraged with a hailstorm of pop-up ads for Internet gambling and pornography. The new windows returned to the screen even after they were closed, the FTC said.

“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 initiate the blitz erupt on his screen,” FTC lawyers said in the complaint.

FTC investigators said Zuccarini makes from $800,000 to $1 million per year by charging advertisers whose ads appear on the browser windows.

Companies targeted by Zuccarini’s scam have filed scores of complaints with regulators and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, an oversight body that handles Internet addresses. The FTC said Zuccarini has lost 53 state and federal lawsuits and has had about 200 Web addresses taken from him and transferred to copyright holders.

Many of the Web sites target kids, including 15 variations on the Cartoon Network’s Web site, and 41 variations on the name of pop singer Britney Spears.

It is unclear whether the FTC will be able to collect the money, which is earmarked for consumer redress.

Zuccarini never appeared on his own or through a lawyer in the Pennsylvania federal court handling the case, even though witnesses testified that he was notified of the suit.

He did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Florida lawyer Howard Neu, who once represented Zuccarini, said he had “not the foggiest” idea where Zuccarini is.

Zuccarini does business under many company names, including 22 names using the word “Cupcake.” Victims of the scam should contact the commission at 1-877-382-4357 and use the FTC’s case name, “Cupcake Party.”

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