Busted! Mug Shot Websites Feeling the Heat

Lawmakers, credit card companies are cracking down on sites that charge mug shot removal fees.
3:00 | 12/19/13

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Transcript for Busted! Mug Shot Websites Feeling the Heat
Getting arrested is traumatic enough especially if you are innocent and prove it later. What if your mug st showed up all over the in the net anyway. And you have to pay to get it taken down. Tonight, we're going inside the booming business of mug shot web sites. Where your misfortune paves the road to their fortune. Here is abc's steve osunsami. Reporter: For the people whose faces are splashed across these web pages it can be embarrassing, stigmatizing and downright depression. Not just talking jail house photos of celebrities, the real money these days is with real people. No one is mint to be in jail. So I say that I wasn't supposed to be there, no one is, but it was really a turning point in my life. Lowest point in my life. Reporter: Michael admits he is not a perfect young man by any means. But says the mug shot from the dui arrest in georgia is now available with every internet search of his name. Stuff follows you forever. Feels like I am a little fish in a big pond. Hard to fight the mug shot companies. I don't know who to turn to to make them go away. The former cadet says god is forgiving. But the web sites that post his photos are not. Today he runs a moving business and fears he will never escape his past. It is ridiculous to have one small chapter of your life affecting the entirety of your life. We found dozens of mug shot web sites still running strong. And in most states their work is perfectly legal. They stand behind sunshine laws that allow them to legally download booking photos and other open record from police web sites. Some times the very second those files are released. Wanda dallas worked for the fulton county sheriff in georgia and is a magistrate court judge. Fundamentally we know it is wrong. In a country that gives people the access off to information and then, age of information where it is available so quickly. How do you stop this? Here is where critics say the web sites take it too far. Many of them still make their money by charging the people in the photos hundreds of dollars to take the pictures down. Now we are going to draw right here. Reporter: Andy mcmahon, computer technician in atlanta says he paid $75 to take down an old booking photo from a dui. He says he hasn't had a drink in several years and now is a family man with two kids. After they took it down. They started popping up everywhere. It was hit one down and it popped up other places. Reporter: Sophia says she is innocent. A court agrees. It's look you can't move on with your life. Everybody goes to google to see who you are. I am not a criminal. Not charged with anything. Reporter: She was the victim and felt violated pie mug shot web sites that legally published booking photos from what she says was a false arrest for domestic dispute, later all cleared from her record. A constant reminder. Reporter: When she asked one of the sites to keep her photos private. They said yes but she would have to pay $399. And she refused. All they want is money to take the pictures down. It's not just -- that I take my photograph down on this site. It comes down on this site and pops up some where else. Over and over and over again. When does it stop? Reporter: We found several pages like tampacriminals.Com. That explain how they charge to remove booking photos even if the person in the picture was cleared. Question, if I was found not guilty or had my record expunged will you remove my mug shot for free? Their answer, no. Question, how do you sleep at night? Their answer, just like you in a bed. Cuddling with the freedom of speech and american flag and the king james bible. We went looking for a voice from the mug shot website industry but found contact information on sites often led nowhere. You are just ausiness man in this scenario. A businessman and advocate. Reporter: We did find this man in louisiana who asked to remain in shadow. Think of how many people have been arrested. Now, put a small service fee on that amount of people. You can see why the industry its sort of taken off. He told us to call him tj. Says he is a middle man. Hired by thousands of americans each year, desperate to get their booking photos taken down. reputation repair he charges up to $1,3400 for his services and swears he is not in bed with the owners of the sites. Is this a dirty business that you are in? I've don't kid it dirty what I do. What I do is help people. What you are basically is doing, saying if you don't pay me. I will leave this damaging photo of you out on the internet. Reporter: When weep f first told the story, lawmaker bruce would make it a crime for a website to remove a mug shot photo. After our report, nearly every state lawmaker supported his bill and it became law. Georgia governor signing it. Joining a handful of states now trying to protect residents with booking photos. If your mug shot is out there. You call them. They have 30 days to remove it. If they've don't remove it. Now they're in violation of the law. Reporter: The credit card companies are helping law makers like bruce in a big way. Refusing to ans ir. When the sites were brought to our attention we done cuttinged -- our attention we conducted a review and a new policy suspension of any website that requires payment for removal. Search engine giant google making headlines with a target of the industry. And now websites pushed down the list on web results. The web sites are difficult to keep track. As much as you, you and other lawmakers have gone after them, have put a dent in some of their business. We are still running. Can't stop people from breaking the law. We now have method in place off to enforce it. And to hopefully, drive these people out of business. And to -- and if they continue to break the law, to prosecute them. Reporter: In an e-mail we heard back from busted mug shots.Com, a popular site, facing a lawsuit for more than $250,000 people in ohio. Excusing the company from exploiting their photos for commercial gain. And the company ceo told us he is providing a public service saying that we feet public's right to know about local arrests and crime outweighs this concern. Which is one of the main reasons the public record laws have determined these must be disclosed to the public. He told us in march, his company removes photos for free when the person shows they've been exonerated. This its what his website says tonight. We'ren the process of altering our arrest record policy and unable to remove this record at this time. Effective immediately we will no longer be accepting payment for any record removal. Our insider says this is the result of new laws ha gainst the industry. Web sites will keep rolling on without ever taking any pictures down. She was arrested today. And her photo is already online. Reporter: He says the real problem is the law. The industry would go away with authorities stopped treating booking photos like trophy. Why are we posting a mug shot of some one who missed traffic court. Sophia has become the face and emotional fire in the fight against the mug shot industry. She was there in georgia the day the governor signed the new law. She start aid nonprofit to help other families fighting the web sites. I had to make a decision for myself. I will not let this thing beat me. Reporter: Michael is continuing with his recovery, which would be a lot ears if the web sites weren't chasing him with the photos. People make mistakes. They shouldn't hold some body back for the rest of their lives. Our thanks to steve for that.

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