Are some websites extorting people to remove their mugshots?
Diane from Ohio, who asked us not to us her last name, was arrested and charged with domestic violence six years ago. Her mug shot was taken, and that unflattering photo was soon splattered all over the web. And although the charges were later dismissed, Diane says her mug shot remains online.
“I was just beside myself. I could not believe this was happening,” said Diane. “I thought this was behind me, and then one day my daughter sends a picture and it was my mugshot.”
She's not alone. INSIDE EDITION found many people who are also haunted by online mug shots from the past.
Stephen Celeste is the son of the ex-Governor of Ohio. He says ten years after a misdemeanor drug charge was expunged from his record, his mug shot is also still online.
“I was embarrassed and shocked. It's outlandish,” said Celeste.
Musician Jeff Loose says he was wrongly arrested on drug charges, but his mug shot is still splattered on the web.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I was wrongly arrested. It’s not fair at all,” said Loose.
And Princess Matthews says the prevalence of her six-year-old mug shots online has caused her daughter constant bullying at school.
“It's heartbreaking,” said Matthews.
Despite trying to remove them, their mug shots linger on websites like bustedmugshots.com and mugshotsonline.com. “Every time I apply for a job, I worry are they are going to Google me and see this,” said Diane.
So how does a woman like Diane get that nasty mug shot removed? After all, she was cleared of all charges. You'd think it would be easy. But it turns out many of those websites charge big bucks to delete the mugshots.
Celeste said, “This is ridiculous, its extortion to ask me to pay to have my mug shot removed.”
When you click the 'unpublish' button on mugshots.com, it takes you to a website that charges $399.00 to remove one mug shot.
Ohio attorney Scott Ciolek has now filed a class action lawsuit on their behalf against bustedmugshots.com and similar websites, alleging they've extorted 'millions of dollars' by unlawfully charging mug shot removal fees.
“It has destroyed the lives of a number of my clients. The nature of what they're doing here is as if someone is setting your house on fire and then charging you for the water to put it out,” said Ciolek.
Kyle Prall is the co-owner of bustedmugshots.com and for years he's been charging people $178.00 dollars for the 'rush removal' of mug shots, that is, he was charging people until we caught up with him.
INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero asked Prall, “Are you charging people to have their mug shots taken off your site?”
“No were not, we changed the policy today,” said Prall.
Guerrero said, “Just today, really?”
“Yes,” replied Prall.
Imagine that! All it took was few questions from the I-Squad and his policy is changed!
Prall continued: “The point is everybody gets arrested, a lot of people get arrested.”
Guerrero said, “Everybody doesn’t get arrested sir, apparently you do. I've never been arrested, you've been arrested at least six times.”
That's right, the I-Squad found Prall has six mug shots! But he’s never posted any of his own photos on his mug shot websites.
Guerrero asked, “Why aren't your mug shots on your own site?”
‘I tried to get my mug shots from the police department, that police department declined,” said Prall.
Really? They had no problem giving them to us.
Guerrero said, “That's hypocritical isn't it.”
He replied, “No, it’s not, because actually we can’t put this low quality on there.”
Prall says his websites aren't extorting anyone and claims he's doing a public service by actually helping police solve crimes.
Retired police detective Steve Kardian says these websites are just trying to cash in on people who've already paid their debt to society.
“This is in no way shape or form assisting law enforcement. Websites like this should be taken down. It’s a classic extortion scheme,” said Kardian
The mug shot websites deny any wrongdoing. And since we spoke to Mr. Prall, his websites are no long accepting payment for any record removal.