Fraudulent 'Ask John Lott' Website Now Claims to Be Parody

July 7, 2008 - 8:21 PM

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The fraudulent website created by an unidentified critic of pro-gun researcher John Lott may, based on new information revealed Tuesday, be linked to an anti-gun advocacy group. The owner of "AskJohnLott.Org" also posted a disclaimer late Monday claiming the site was a parody.

"That's like stealing money and then, when you get caught, saying you won't steal anymore," Lott said of the disclaimer Tuesday. "They're not giving the money back that they have already stolen."

As CNSNews.com reported Monday, the "AskJohnLott.org" site is neither operated nor authorized by Lott, who said it contains misrepresentations of his views and research on gun-related issues.

"They're using my name, they're taking it and using it in a way that I don't agree with," Lott said. "I think stealing is what it is."

The creator of the website also claimed to be Lott in responses to e-mail messages from visitors of the site and even argued via e-mail with readers who disputed his or her identity.

"Why are you pretending not to believe this site? I believe, if you look at my track record, you'll see that everything i've [sic] done in my entire career has been upfront and straightforward," the Lott imposter wrote. "Why have you decided now to question me?"

The creator of the fraudulent site authored the e-mail but claimed it was sent by "John Lott."

'AskJohnLott.org' adds disclaimer, drops links, changes bio

From the June 27 registration of the domain name through Monday, there was no indication that it was not operated by Lott. That changed sometime Monday, when a disclaimer was added.

"This site is not run by John Lott, he has no affiliation with it. It is run by Mary Rosh," the disclaimer states. "John Lott used Mary Rosh to support his books in internet [sic] forums and put false claims in her mouth. Now, Mary Rosh has created this site to show John Lott that parody is a two-way street."

"Mary Rosh" is a pseudonym Lott used in Internet conversations discussing his work after receiving telephone threats from some of the participants in those chat sessions.

The site's owner has also removed Lott's legal name "John R. Lott, Jr.," from the biography page and intentionally misspelled or changed the names of Lott's former employers, titles and publications that have carried his work. The commercial e-mail response system that provided the initial automated response to questions from visitors to the site has also been disabled.

Unlike the e-mail responses previously cited, in which the author of the fraudulent website affirmatively claimed to be Lott, an e-mail from the site received Tuesday included a disclaimer nearly identical to the one on the website. Additionally, the e-mail was signed "Ask John Lott" rather than simply "John Lott," as had been the case with previous e-mail replies.

Lott said Tuesday that posting a disclaimer after more than a month of misrepresentation "to cover their tracks" should not absolve the website's creator, or anyone associated with it, from responsibility for their actions.

"I think it shows they realize that the secretive things they were doing are wrong," he explained. "I don't think that corrects the problems they've created by sending around these e-mails and having the misinformation up on the website for that period of time."

Fraudulent site possibly linked to anti-gun advocacy group

The fraud and abuse manager for one Internet Service Provider (ISP), whose features had been used by the fraudulent website, confirmed to CNSNews.com Tuesday that the website was "piggy-backed" on the account of an anti-gun organization.

"There is a merchant that is related, and I do see that there is some correlation," he said, speaking on condition that neither he nor his business would be identified. "They seem to be some sort of anti-gun advocate, something to that effect.

"However," he added, "it does seem that mostly they're using the service to conduct legitimate business."

The ISP manager said the "AskJohnLott.org" services formerly provided by his company appeared to have been terminated and that an attempt appeared to have been made to delete the records of the services' use. He would not name the "anti-gun advocate" to which the fraudulent website's services had been billed, noting that he could not confirm from his records whether his legitimate client had authorized the specific use.

"This is where the gray area comes in," he explained. "This may not even be this particular merchant. It could be a buddy of theirs or somebody that they, basically, shared their service with."

Website creator possibly violated additional federal laws

In Monday's report, CNSNews.com noted that the creator of the "AskJohnLott.org" site could potentially face criminal liability, according to a former Justice Department attorney for "fraud by wire, radio or television." (18 U.S.C. 1343)

The site's owner could also face a civil suit for "Cyberpiracy," in violation of (15 U.S.C. 1125).

That law provides a "cause of action" in federal court to sue any person who registers or uses a domain name that is "identical or confusingly similar to" a word or phrase protected under U.S. trademark laws, "including a personal name." A person or business name does not have to be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in order to qualify for trademark protection.

One factor that courts may consider to establish liability under the statute is "the person's provision of material and misleading false contact information when applying for the registration of the domain name, the person's intentional failure to maintain accurate contact information or the person's prior conduct indicating a pattern of such conduct."

As CNSNews.com reported Monday, a "whois" database search for the domain name "AskJohnLott.org" revealed that it is fraudulently registered to "Mary Rosh" at the nonexistent "Center for Truth." The registrant's mailing address is listed as "380 Main Street, Washington DC, New York 10012," though no such address exists.

Another issue judges and juries can take into account when determining whether to allow a "Cyberpiracy" lawsuit or award damages is whether the accused registered the domain name "with the intent to tarnish or disparage the [victim's name or trademark] by creating a likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation or endorsement of the site."

Lott believes that's exactly what is happening to him.

"They were obviously doing this to get people to help fight certain policies that are going to be voted on in Congress," he speculated, "and using my name to do it."

Regardless of the outcome of any criminal or civil actions against the creator of the fraudulent website, Lott predicted the problems it has caused will not be solved in the near future.

"I'm going to have to deal with these misquotes being attributed to me for years," he said.

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E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.


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