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How Mugshot Websites and Reputation Defenders Work Together

The mugshot website industry is booming – especially in Florida.

Florida has liberal open-records laws, and different entities take advantage of that to gather mugshots, organize them and post them on line.

But what happens next is a form of “highway robbery,” according to Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute’s Sense-making Project.

Reputation-defender businesses will charge up to $400 to get your mugshot off that website.

“Some of these sites are engaging in what seems like a legal form of extortion,” McBride said.

One of the early players, McBride said, was the Tampa Bay Times, which started Tampabay.com/mugshots.

Other websites, such as florida.arrests.org, soon discovered they could generate web traffic and profits easily. They set up a computer program to scrape mugshots from county websites, and then organize them into a more easily searchable form that is easily recognized by Google.

A recent article in Wired.com showed the symbiotic relationship between mugshot sites and reputation-defender businesses.

The mugshot sites will set up a system where for $10 or $20, the reputation defenders can remove the mugshots.

The reputation defenders keep the rest. That can be as much as $380 per person.

McBride says there are two problems with the current system:

1.       The mugshots are not accurate or up to date. They list the crime someone is accused of at arrest. It does not note if you were found innocent, or the charged dropped or reduced.

2.       Already, state legislators are trying to curb this type of behavior. They could try to take mugshots out of the public domain – and that would hurt the public’s right to know.

Scott Finn is a former news director at WUSF Public Media, which provides in-depth reporting for Tampa Bay and all of Florida.