One of the unfortunate realities of being arrested, regardless of whether you are innocent or guilty, is that your mugshot will end up being posted on various mugshot websites. Often, these websites will have opaque setups that make it very difficult to find out who is really behind them and it is often difficult to get in touch with them. Although some of them claim to be set up offshore or in other countries with limited regulations, most mugshots websites are based in the United States.
Mugshot websites routinely engage in dubious business practices, such as using search engine optimization to push their results to the top of search engines and demanding hundreds or even thousands of dollars to remove your record. Sometimes, mugshots will routinely appear in the top 10 Google, Yahoo, or Bing searches of your name. What’s more, even if you pay these websites to remove your record, they will continue to extort you by removing the record from one website and routing it to a different domain, who will then post it all over again. Ultimately, you should never pay a mugshot website to remove your records as it will only encourage them to scam you further, not to mention others.
Today, the most common form of profiteering off of mugshots is for mugshot websites to route your request to an internet reputation company. These companies often make claims that they will protect your online reputation but they could well be the ones who have set up and co-opted mugshot websites in the first place. If a mugshot website will not remove your record, even if it was expunged, sealed, or dismissed, ask yourself, why would an internet reputation company be able to remove it within 24 hours? They likely have some kind of special agreement, if they aren’t running the entire site in the first place.
Because mugshots are technically public record, it is legal to post them. If the record has been expunged, sealed, set aside, or technically no longer exists, you may have a case for slander but it may also be difficult for you to find, identify, and sue the perpetrators, let alone actually winning the case.
Mugshot websites make money off of mugshots in two principle ways. Initially, many mugshot websites made money through advertising. After all, mugshots are eye-catching and will attract attention from the average person who browses the internet. For example, the notorious site mugshots.com averages close to 600,000 viewers per week. If individual ads pay $1 per 1000 views, the site will make $600 per week from those ads alone.
Advertising is no longer a cash cow for most mugshot websites because most advertisers have pulled their advertisements from mugshot websites. Indeed, mugshots.com often has no ads on its site, and has open invitations to advertisers to advertise on its site. Likewise, rapsheets.org also had its ads pulled by Google after violating Google AdSense policies.
Without ads, mugshot websites make money essentially through blackmail; make someone pay to have their mugshot taken down, or else the image will be seen by all manner of people including friends, employers, or potential dates. However, even when mugshot websites do take down records after receiving payment, it is entirely at their discretion whether they keep the record in their database.
Several states have passed laws preventing mugshot websites from posting mugshots of people who had their charges dismissed, records expunged or sealed, or were otherwise innocent. In Oregon, ORS 646A.806 requires mugshot websites to remove mugshots free of charge if the arrest resulted in acquittal, was reduced to violations, or was later expunged or set aside by the court.
More recently, Florida has enacted a law that prevents mugshot websites from soliciting or accepting any fee to remove mugshots. A complete current list of states that prevent mugshot websites from charging to remove mugshots can be found here. If you are not sure about your local laws, you should contact a representative.
None of this will prevent illicit websites from attempting to find creative ways to make money off of website traffic and mugshots. Today, it is likely that some mugshot websites have made deals with internet reputation companies. Although the nature of these deals is unclear, the fact that several internet reputation companies can remove records within 24-72 hours suggests that they are intertwined with mugshot websites in some way. The ongoing criminal case of the mugshots.com and Unpublisharrest.com owners suggests that this can indeed be the case.
Ways in which internet reputation companies could co-opt mugshot websites for their own benefit could include giving subsidies or payments to mugshot websites to not use search engine optimization for specific records. It could also include tracking down the owners of mugshot websites and threatening them with lawyers or even illegal means. In short, you should never pay an internet reputation company to remove a mugshot unless you know exactly how they are doing it, they are doing it legally, and only if your money is actually worth what they are doing.
There are a number of things you can try to do to get rid of online mugshots without paying anyone.
The first and most obvious, is to report search results to search engines. When you do a Google search, at the bottom of the page, there is a small bar that says “Send feedback.” Click on this, and you can report inappropriate search results, e.g. mugshots. Although Google will likely not respond to you, they are reading it, and it may help push them to change their algorithm to remove mugshots from search results.
On Bing, at the bottom of the page, you can click on “feedback” and report your concerns. You can also click the “Help” tab at the bottom of a Bing search page, and under “Safety and Privacy” you can report your concern about search results.
For Yahoo, at the bottom of a Yahoo search page, there is a “Help” tab. Click on it, and you will be directed to a page that includes information on how to remove search results from Yahoo.
Search results will not be removed overnight. If your mugshot is still publicly available and you are applying for jobs or housing, it may benefit you to be forthcoming about your arrest. If your case was dropped or dismissed, you can explain that and say that your image may appear on mugshot websites from a dropped case that had no merit. If you got a conviction, you should just admit the truth. Criminal convictions, even felonies, are not automatic bars to housing, employment, or successful jobs and careers. Indeed, any lawyer or probation officer will probably tell you that they have had former clients with long rap sheets who still had successful lives.
Other things you can do to fight online mugshots include creating websites or content of yourself, posting pictures or good news about yourself online, and using scripts to try to push negative content down in certain searches. Some reputable online reputation management companies can do this for you, although it may not be worth the cost as mugshot websites can also try to re-optimize. Finally, another thing you can do to try and stop mugshot companies from posting records is to report them to the Better Business Bureau and/or review them online. If they become companies in poor standing, that could affect their ability to profiteer off of mugshots.
Some mugshot websites will remove expunged or dismissed records for free, but others will not at all. We have compiled a list of mugshot websites based on feedback from individuals that will remove records for free and those that will not. Even if your arrest led to a conviction, you may still be able to get your mugshot removed from the first group of websites.
Mugshot websites that will remove expunged/dismissed records for free:
Mugshot websites that will not remove any records without payment*:
*For this group of websites the only known way to fully remove records is to pay an internet reputation company
Former Mugshot Websites:
The websites on this list may have been taken down, removed, or inactivated for unknown reasons.
Other Mugshot Websites:
PublicJail.com will not remove any records except in case of expungement, sealing, or identity theft.
CrimeInformer.com claims free removals within 30 days but this has not been verified.