The California attorney general has charged four men who are alleged to be the owners and operators of the Mugshots.com website with extortion, money laundering, and identity theft. Two of the suspects have reportedly been arrested in Florida and may be extradited back to California for prosecution.
As made obvious by the name of the website, Mugshots.com data mines and then publishes law enforcement booking photos that are typically in the public domain. According to the AG Xavier Becerra, anyone who requests the removal of a mugshot allegedly has to pay a “de-publishing” or takedown fee through a companion website, apparently even if the charges were dropped or cops made a mistake in arresting the person in the first place. The removal fee is reportedly about $400.
Some individuals who were never convicted of any crime have found themselves unable to get a job, a place to live, or encounter other difficulties when others found their image on the website after an online search.
Mugshots.com is reportedly hosted and registered overseas, with a business address in the Caribbean island of Nevis.
According to authorities, “between 2014 and 2017, Mugshots.com allegedly took more than $2.4 million in fees from at least 5,703 people nationwide who wanted their photos removed from the site,” the Washington Post reported.
“Mugshots.com is one of several websites nationwide that make money by publicizing arrest information and demanding fees through intermediary sites to wipe records clean,” the Post added.
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) May 18, 2018
The Mugshots.com website does contain a lengthy disclaimer at the top of the homepage explaining that anyone depicted there is presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, that mugshots are no indication that an actual crime was committed, and that all mugshots constitute public records.
The charges brought against the alleged website proprietors were a culmination of a multi-agency, multi-state investigation led by the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force.
In a news release about the charges that also contains a notice that every defendant is presumed innocent until found guilty after legal proceedings, Becerra said that “this pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off of someone else’s humiliation. Those who can’t afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing, or try to build relationships with others. This is exploitation, plain and simple.”
The press release encourages those who believe they were allegedly victimized by Mugshots.com to file a report with their local police department for documentation purposes. The release goes on to say that California residents should contact the attorney general’s eCrime unit, while those out of state can get in touch with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The Law&Crime website reports that after his arrest on the California warrant, one of the suspects is in custody at the West Palm Beach Detention Center, while cops have detained another suspect at the Broward County Jail. The two other suspects are also now reportedly in custody. The California arrest affidavit is posted here.