FBI/IC3 says online mug shot “extortion” a growing problem

The FBI/Internet Crime Complaint Center says it has gotten hundreds of complaints; legislation is slowly forthcoming to help

The FBI/Internet Crime Complaint Center reported today it has received "hundreds of complaints" from people claiming they have seen their mug shots on 20 different websites, who all often then charge anywhere from $100 to $500 to remove it. Thing is, if the victim paid to have it removed once, it likely pops up again elsewhere.

[MORE: FBI/IC3: Impersonation, intimidation and scams, yep that's the Internet ]

[RELATED: FTC: Identity theft retains its throne as No.1 worst scourge in Top 10 consumer complaint list]

The IC3 says some victims reported they were juveniles at the time of the arrest and subsequent mug shot, and their records were sealed. Therefore, their information should not be available to the public. Others stated the information posted on the sites was either incorrect or blatantly false. More frequently however the mug shot was representative of an arrest only, no charges or conviction followed and these folks feel pretty violated.

The IC3 went on to says complainants who requested to have their mug shot removed, had to provide a copy of their driver's license, court record and other personal identifying information. However, providing such information puts those at risk for identify theft. In addition, if the victim threatened to report the websites for unlawful practice, the websites' owners threatened to escalate the damaging information against the victim.

The IC3 report points up the growing exasperation victims and some state governments are having with these sorts of operations. 

From NBCChicago.com: "Some of the complainants accuse these websites of extortion, calling them despicable. Most mug shot websites require payment to take images down, anywhere from $68 to $399, a practice that is now banned in Utah. Georgia has passed a comparable bill. Oregon and Florida are debating similar restrictions. The nature of what they're doing is extortion. They are intentionally embarrassing people and then charging them to take their picture down," said Ohio attorney Scott Ciolek."

For an interesting take on the Georgia legislation look here.  One of the more popular mug shot web site's response to that bill is here.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake City County Sheriff Jim Winder told the Deseretnews.com that his department has stopped publishing mugshots to keep people from being victimized.  He noted that  once those mug shots are on the Internet, they never really disappear. Another issue is that many of the people who have their pictures taken are never actually booked into jail. Some are "booked and released," meaning they are allowed to leave after their mug shot is taken. And some are never charged or are later found innocent of the crime they were accused of committing. Furthermore, some people have mug shots taken for relatively minor offenses. But to the public, "A mug shot means criminal," he said.

Winder told the Deseretnews.com The county had become an unwilling accomplice to these publications because of its long-standing practice to post mug shots online where they could be accessed by the public. One company alone had downloaded 520,000 mug shots from his Salt Lake County Jail, Winder said, and about 2,700 from the Davis County Jail. He showed an example of one company that charged citizens $400 to have a single mug shot removed from their website, and nearly $1,500 for four mug shots to be taken offline.

We'll likely be hearing more about this topic.  What do you think?

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8 and on Facebook

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