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Man Held in Lucrative Web Porn Scam

Officials say a Florida man misspelled names of popular Internet sites to 'trap' his victims.

September 04, 2003|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Federal agents Wednesday arrested a man they say runs Web sites that exploit misspellings by computer users to direct children looking for Disneyland or the Teletubbies to explicit sex instead.

Officials said it was the first prosecution in the nation under a provision of the new Amber Alert legislation that makes it a crime to use a misleading Web address to draw children to pornography. The provision calls for a prison sentence of up to four years.

John Zuccarini, 53, was arrested at a motel in Hollywood, Fla., where authorities believe he had been living for months.

Zuccarini registered thousands of Internet addresses and was earning up to $1 million per year off them -- much of it from sex sites that paid him when he sent Web users their way, U.S. Atty. James B. Comey said.

Authorities said Zuccarini used real, popular Web addresses, but with omitted or transposed letters, officials say. Computer users who misspelled or mistyped a Web address often ended up in a porn site instead.

Zuccarini used the technique to trap Web surfers trying to log on to sites for Disneyland, Teletubbies children's characters and pop star Britney Spears, among others, according to court papers.

Once there, Web users often encountered a maze of pop-up advertising called "mousetrapping," which sends up even more ads when surfers click the back button on their browser or try to close the windows altogether.

Zuccarini was ordered held without bail Wednesday by a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was due in court again Friday, when an attorney was expected to be appointed for him.

Last year, Zuccarini was ordered to stop the scheme after the Federal Trade Commission sued him for registering misspelled variations of sites for the Backstreet Boys, Victoria's Secret and the Wall Street Journal. Firms whose names were exploited have filed dozens of complaints with regulators.

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