Unscrupulous web site operators are going to great lengths to cause embarrassment for people with criminal records, even records that have been expunged or sealed. If you have been arrested in the past several years, there is a chance that your mugshot and arrest details are easily available online or will be soon, even if your case has already been sealed or expunged. These web sites are obtaining old mugshot photos and publishing them online in hopes that it will cause people embarrassment and get them to pay hundreds of dollars to have their mugshot removed from each site. With nearly 100 mugshot sites out there, the cost for removal could cost more than $10,000 if a person were to pay for each one.
A mugshot is often the most embarrassing record a person can have associated with their name. In one of the most competitive job markets in our country’s history, having an arrest record available online – complete with an unflattering photograph – will often completely ruin a qualified worker’s chances for employment. Friends, family, potential employers, and co-workers are just a Google search away from stumbling on a record of your arrest, often with the most shaming photo prominently displayed.
These web sites are taking the information from law enforcement websites or using public information requests to obtain mugshots and arrest records. Often the data gets pulled from law enforcement websites and posted to the private company’s database and website automatically en masse, so site administrators do not verify any of the information, such as whether charges have been dropped or whether the record has been sealed or expunged.
While these sites are not meant to provide accurate criminal records, many visitors will construe your mugshot to mean that you were charged and convicted of the crime, even if that is not the case. Making matters worse, these websites typically appear at the top of search engine results. These companies justify the publication of mugshots by claiming it will deter people from engaging in criminal activity and that it enhances public safety by educating the community. This may have been true historically with law enforcement websites; however, based on the way the majority of these private companies are currently operating, it seems clear that their motives are purely financial.
The companies who operate these web sites often use a separate but related company to charge individuals hundreds of dollars to remove a photo. The fees charged to remove your mugshot can range from $99 to $399, and typically each fee only covers removal from a single website. It can be a very frustrating and costly process to get your mugshot removed from all the websites.
“What they are doing is illegal,” says attorney Natasha Buchanan. “However, prosecuting them and suing them is difficult because they operate behind hidden identities and offshore companies. Suing them would cost tens of thousands of dollars.”