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FTC halts hawkers of .usa addresses

The agency says a company preyed on people's patriotism by selling them domain names that don't work on the Web.

The Federal Trade Commission said Monday that it has busted a company that preyed on people's patriotism by selling them .usa addresses that don't work on the Web.

The FTC said it won a temporary injunction prohibiting the U.K.-based operators of the Web site from peddling .usa domain names. The decision by a federal judge in Chicago last week followed an investigation by the FTC, British law enforcement and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body charged with administering domain names.

FTC officials said the operation netted more than $1 million by sending spam to people urging them to "Be Patriotic!" and asking: "Who wants to be .com when you can now be .USA?"

The spam encouraged people to fork over $59 for a Web address. However, the FTC said the site failed to notify consumers that the domain names have not been approved to function the same way as addresses ending in .com.

"The bogus domain names don't work on the Internet," said J. Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "They're not just unlisted. They're unconnected."

Several companies are selling domains that are not sanctioned by ICANN in the hopes of getting around what many see as a corporate stranglehold on the organization, which approves "official" top-level domains such as .com. Beales said the FTC would not go after those companies unless they try to deceive consumers into believing the domain names work like any other Web address.

Beales added that's attempts to trick consumers--not its appeals to patriotism--convinced the agency to crack down on the operation. He noted that many companies have taken advantage of patriotic fervor since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Our concerns are not so much the question of taste...but whether they're doing it in a way that's unfair or deceptive," Beales said.

Operators of could not be reached for comment.