Google, Paypal, American Express go after mug shot extortion sites

By on October 7, 2013, 3:30 PM
google, american express, paypal, discover, john pluhowski, mug shot

There is a small ring of companies that, over the past several years, have made a business out of digging through local police department websites to snag mug shot photos, and then make them publicly accessible. Offenders are then charged as much as $400 or more to get the mug shot taken down.

Although it may not seem like such a bad thing for serious criminals, it can be detrimental to the lives of minor offenders. So much so that both Google and some of the biggest payment providers are taking action against the mug shot extortion sites.

As some have mentioned, Google's search results should push sites that simply steal content from other sources into the background making them very hard to come by, but that hasn't been the case. When Google was first questioned about the scraped mug shots appearing so high up in the search results, it said that it was still working on fixing the overall issues with its algorithm.

However at this point, it appears Google has now implemented the changes, having pushed certain mug shots well back of the first results page.

Like we mentioned above, various financial institutions are taking action as well. MasterCard said it "looked at the activity and found it repugnant.” Reports say the company is terminating any clients that may be affiliated with mug shot sites. Similarly, PayPal has "decided to discontinue support for mug-shot removal payments," according to spokesman John Pluhowski. Both Discover and American Express also said they would be severing ties with these types of mug shot services.

Image via Shutterstock




User Comments: 15

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insect said:

What happened to just not committing crime/getting caught doing crime?

I of course can still go down to the local police dept. and ask for it now that it's public record anyway. FOIA requests work also.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Kind of odd that anyone would fall for this. Most law enforcement agencies post mug shots on their websites anyway.

3 people like this | Lurker101 said:

What happened to just not committing crime/getting caught doing crime?

These people have done their time. They've paid their debt to society and the vast majority will want to put the experience behind them and get on with their lives, without a few petty, overblown mistakes dragging them down any further.

Adhmuz Adhmuz, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I'm amazed a class action lawsuit hasn't been taken against them, or individual lawsuits for that matter. Extortion should never be tolerated, but as stated above, just go to your local police dept it's public record after all, but not a Google search away is the problem.

1 person liked this | Guest said:

The issue is ease of access and payment. Hence, Google, Paypal, credit card company involvement.

As for simplistic views of crime and punishment, mug shots merely indicate an arrest. It does not indicate guilt. However, given the relatively low spatial reasoning exhibited by the great unwashed on the topic, the mug shot alone appearing high in a simple name based online search could be enough to damage someones career. These companies are scum and their owners should have their pictures posted prominently online.

St1ckM4n St1ckM4n said:

Eh, someone in the world will do this while not expecting any payment. Therefore, they can't be taken down.

As much as past 'mistakes' can suck when they haunt you, the moral of the story is not to do it in the first place.

6 people like this | Guest said:

Please don't use the word "offender" in this context. You are perpetuating some very serious and increasingly dangerous misconceptions surrounding the whole law enforcement system. Mug shots are taken BEFORE anyone is proven guilty of anything. Many, perhaps most mugshots, do not precede an eventual conviction of any crime whatsoever.

The only thing that has to happen to land you in jail for the weekend and get your mug shot on the web is for one cop to decide to do it. That's it. No trial, no judge, no witnesses, no oversight of any kind, no nothing. Just a single cop who has the power to royally frack up your week. Having a mug shot could mean that you've broken the law, or it could mean that a cop chose to act out his power trip on you, or it could mean something in between.

These days more people than ever are being harassed and detained without good cause and you have missed an opportunity here to help highlight the distinction between being an actual criminal and being a victim of the rapidly worsening law enforcement problem.

So please, even if you don't wish to take the opportunity to be a part of the solution, at least refrain from being a part of the problem. The word "offender" and the whole idea behind it are totally unrelated to anything in this article and are in genuine need of correction, lest the popular misconception, and therefore the problem itself, persist. Best to call them "arrestees" or even "victims" since that's what they are with respect to this article.

1 person liked this | Chazz said:

Please don't use the word "offender" in this context. You are perpetuating some very serious and increasingly dangerous misconceptions surrounding the whole law enforcement system. Mug shots are taken BEFORE anyone is proven guilty of anything. Many, perhaps most mugshots, do not precede an eventual conviction of any crime whatsoever.

The only thing that has to happen to land you in jail for the weekend and get your mug shot on the web is for one cop to decide to do it. That's it. No trial, no judge, no witnesses, no oversight of any kind, no nothing. Just a single cop who has the power to royally frack up your week. Having a mug shot could mean that you've broken the law, or it could mean that a cop chose to act out his power trip on you, or it could mean something in between.

These days more people than ever are being harassed and detained without good cause and you have missed an opportunity here to help highlight the distinction between being an actual criminal and being a victim of the rapidly worsening law enforcement problem.

So please, even if you don't wish to take the opportunity to be a part of the solution, at least refrain from being a part of the problem. The word "offender" and the whole idea behind it are totally unrelated to anything in this article and are in genuine need of correction, lest the popular misconception, and therefore the problem itself, persist. Best to call them "arrestees" or even "victims" since that's what they are with respect to this article.

Ty for this, guest.Very sensible.

Guest said:

I disagree on the so-called "moral of this story". I know rich guys that should be in jail but parents money made it go away, but I digress. Its just wrong to take advantage of another human being even if the person as messed up in the past. I have worked in corporate america, factories, college and the street corner, there are messed up people in each institution. If there is a moral to this story its more like do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Bubbajim Bubbajim said:

Some of the comments here and on other sites where I've seen this mugshot practice make me despair. What has happened to innocent until proven guilty?

lmike6453 said:

Where is Anonymous when you need them?!?!

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

It's a very sick world we live in and unfortunately there will always be those that try to get rich off the unfortunates whether they be criminal or otherwise. The people who do this kind of thing should also have their mugshots plastered all over the internet.

Tygerstrike said:

Its sad that they were allowed to get away with this horrible act for years. Just because you are ARRESTED doesnt mean there was a conviction. You could have a wild night out drinking with freinds and get arrested for drunk and disorderly. Given the business model of these web sites, your mugshot is posted for the world to see. Your future gets ruined due only to a wild night of drinking and some asshat trying to get rich off of your tragedy. The point is that peoples lives are being impacted by a loophole. Im happy to see the payment industry going after these sites. They operate multiple sites and "cleaning" your mugshot off one site DOESNT mean that EVERY site they run/own will remove it. There are quite a few class action suits being set up and many states are drafting bills to make this type of model illegal.

The good news is that once this becomes illegal, the victims of these sites will have a SOLID civil case against the sites.

dennis777 dennis777 said:

Just dont do a crime in the first place.

Deevo Deevo said:

Why bother going to the trouble of obtaining the mug shots in the first place? Surely a photo and a bit of creative Photoshopping would do the trick? Then you could blackmail anyone. Anyone at all. I bet you now have someone in mind!

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