Saturday, January 08, 2005

Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,33646,00.html

03:00 AM Jan. 15, 2000 PT

By most measures, Patrick Terwee's tenure in the sordid world of Internet pornography has been a splendid success.

Over the last five years, The Hun's Yellow Pages -- the site he runs with his wife out of their Netherlands home -- has grown into one of the most visited sites on the Internet. According to traffic statistics firm WebSideStory, The Hun draws about 800,000 unique visitors in a typical day. What's more, Terwee, a computer programmer by training, says they've built it up without buying advertising or hiring outside staff.

Although Terwee won't say exactly how much he makes by selling ads on his pared-down homepage of links to free porn sites, he admits he's "not doing badly." Advertisers pay up to US$900 a month for a spot on his site. At the very least, it's gotten him enough to finalize plans for a million-dollar, custom-built home.

But lately, hanging on to the source of all that prosperity has turned into a small nightmare. Scam artists galore are seeing the value in his site's domain names, and more than once Terwee has come close to losing the title to his own site.

In the last year, he claims there have been attempts to steal both of his main domain names, thehun.com and thehun.net. Last year, a scam artist went so far as to try to sell "thehun.net" on eBay for $750,000 before Terwee's lawyer intervened.

Then, just two weeks ago, a hijacker struck again. Terwee claims he found his other domain, thehun.com suddenly registered to someone in Eastern Europe.
"There's a lot of bullshit like this going on," said Terwee, better known online by his student nickname. "The amount of time you have to spend on people who try to prosper off the success of the Yellow Pages is not even funny anymore."

Although he managed to get the domain back, Terwee said the illegal changeover stalled traffic to his site for several days and lost him thousands of dollars in ad revenue.
He says he's contemplated a lawsuit. First, however, he'd have to track down the person who pulled the scam.

Terwee's lawyer, Steve Workman, says few cases like The Hun's ever make it to court.
"With domains, because some of them are so valuable, there are some unscrupulous individuals out there who believe they can make a fast buck by submitting a false domain transfer document," Workman said.

Once scammers get Network Solutions -- which runs the database of sites -- to do the transfer, they try to sell the domain to a third party.
Because con artists use phony identities, they're hard to track down in the impostor-heavy online world.

Network Solutions officials did not confirm whether Terwee's site had been hijacked.
Although Workman says he's been getting more calls lately about hijacking cases, it's tough to say how common such scams are. Network Solutions officials said there's no evidence that the incidence of domain hijackings is on the rise -- although the service was stung in a high-profile incident last week. When such cases do occur, it's usually because domain name owners didn't opt for more sophisticated security systems offered by NSI to protect domain name holders, spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy said.

Perhaps the most notorious case of hijacking -- and one of the few that have spawned an actual lawsuit -- involves Sex.com. A San Francisco entrepreneur claims he registered that domain in 1994 and had it stolen from him by a scammer through a forged letter to Network Solutions.
As for Terwee, his five-year tenure as an Internet entrepreneur has been full of scam attempts and legal disputes with would-be rivals.
He recently took action against a competitor who he claims set up a site with identical links to those found on The Hun's Yellow Pages. A few rivals have tried to trick search engines set to automatically troll Web page content by posting the words The Hun in black letters on a black background on their sites or in meta-tags.

Terwee said he also recently purchased the sound-alike domain names TheHon.com and TheHon.net to prevent rivals from attempting a copycat site.

In some ways, that's not a bad thing for Terwee. He says his day-to-day job of posting porn links has gotten to be a bit monotonous. Every day, he faces the same routine of sifting through stacks of email sent from porn sites and photo galleries seeking a link on The Hun's Yellow Pages.

"I have to manually go through every submission," he said. "It's getting pretty boring."