Your online reputation lasts forever — whether positive or negative. Embarrassing comments and photos can resurface. Even criminal records like arrest information and public mugshots can be accessed and exploited online. Mugshot removal websites have built a business around displaying arrest records and demanding payment to delete the photos. However, victims now have many options to remove these damaging images from Google.
How Mugshot Websites Work
Mugshot websites scrape arrest photos from county police websites and post them online. Unfortunately, these sites often rank very well, and could even fill the first page of your search engine results. As a result, you may not be able to find jobs, dates, or even apply for credit.
Often, the arrested individuals ask websites to remove their photos. And of course they can, as long as they pay a hefty fee. This is essentially a scam which has sparked several lawsuits against these websites, usually claiming extortion. But thanks to new laws, policies from Google, and action by credit card companies, the booming industry making that used to make money featuring mugshots online has all but gone bust.
New Mugshot Removal Laws
Lawmakers are working to shut down these websites which have hidden behind the first amendment by allowing citizens to file a lawsuit against them. Georgia state representative Roger Bruce introduced a new law that now makes it a crime for websites to charge Georgia citizens to have their mugshot removed. Websites will now have 30 days to remove a photo, and noncompliance is a violation of the law. Here’s a list of the 18 states that currently ban arrest websites from charging mugshot removal fees as of 2018:
Google Targets Sites Displaying Mugshots Online
Google has moved swiftly to shut down the practice of mugshot extortion. The search engine company launched a new algorithm in October 2013 that specifically targeted mugshot sites. As a result, arrest photos were pushed down or removed from search results. While mugshots still exist online, they may no longer rank in the top results for a person’s name.
Payment Processors Abandon Mugshot Websites
As part of an investigation of the industry, New York Times reporter David Segal alerted payment processors to the fact that these websites were using their services to earn money. Nearly every company Segal spoke to dropped mugshot websites as customers, including MasterCard, PayPal, American Express, and Discover. “We decided to discontinue support for payments related to mugshot removal services,” said PayPal spokesman John Pluhowski.
How Long do Mugshots Stay Online?
With lower visibility in Google search engine results and limited methods of payment, mugshot websites appear to be losing steam. While online mugshots are no longer as lucrative as before, they’re still able to profit in other ways. Specifically, these shady websites now make money through Bing, Yahoo and Google ads for bail bonds. As long as websites host mugshots online, your arrest photo could show up.
Though mugshots no longer rank high enough to dominate your search results, they do still pose a problem. Websites like mugshotsgainesville.com, mugshotsonline.com, and bustedmugshots.com state that booked inmates can’t pay to have their pictures removed, but they can wait. Many of these sites now claim mugshots will only stay online for a maximum of 90 days.
That’s good news for people with prior arrests. However, deleted photos may not really be gone from the web. Potential employers, creditors, and others could still dig up your arrest record if they check cached web pages or search the Internet Archive.
How to Remove Mugshots from Google
If you’re struggling with how to remove a mugshot online, don’t lose hope. You have options, and the law may be on your side. Try the following tips to remove your arrest photo from websites:
- Check the website’s policy. Some websites have a “courtesy removal service.” If you can prove your innocence, they may remove your photo. Additionally, website owners may take down your photo if you can demonstrate that you’ve turned your life around. Communication with the websites is a good first step, but keep in mind that they may not be eager to help.
- Find out if you’re protected by law. Your state may have a law that requires mugshot websites to remove photos upon request. Typically, they must be taken down within 30 days of being contacted with the request, or they will be in violation of the law. Georgia and Oregon are two states that currently have these laws, and we expect to see more states join their ranks shortly.
- Push for a larger crackdown on mugshot websites. If your state doesn’t have a mugshot removal law, ask for one. Contact your state lawmakers and encourage them to create a law that will make it easier for you to manage your online reputation.
- Consult an attorney. Class action and individual lawsuits are pending against mugshot websites. You may be able to join, or create your own case to remove the photo and possibly win damages.
Take Action to Defend Your Reputation
Ultimately, the outlook is positive for individuals struggling with reputation issues from a prior arrest. Though there are some websites that are still publishing photos and charging for removal, their popularity has clearly taken a nosedive. Individuals with prior arrests now have more options than simply paying for removal. If you’re featured on a mugshot website, seek out every option possible to get your photo removed. Take action, and defend your online reputation.
Our firm doesn’t offer a stand-alone mugshot removal service. Our premium Enterprise Reputation Management package is designed to completely rebuild your entire search landscape. If you’d like to inquire about our premium, fully-managed service for high-profile individuals, fill out a contact form to set up a call.