Websites holding reputations hostage - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

WNCN Investigates

Websites holding reputations hostage

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DURHAM, N.C. -

Money is tight for Durham resident and single parent Heather McKean.  She feels the pinch as she prepares to sell her dog in order to help support her 3-and-a-half-year-old son.

She's looking for at least part-time employment, but a major roadblock is standing in her way -- something would-be employers are quick to point out.

"A public record search tells me that you were arrested in January 2013 on charges related to possession of schedule II controlled substances," McKean reads from a prospective employer's email.  "I'm not going to bother my law enforcement colleagues with a request for more information."

A basic Google search was good enough for that potential boss to deny McKean employment, even though authorities dropped charges related to her arrest.

Mugshots don't live forever on police websites, but there are sites out there that routinely take those photos and keep them online – even if you're found innocent.  And getting that mugshot taken down isn't always easy.

"There's a catch," McKean said.  "For $175, they will delete my information within 24 hours."

That means one of her top hits on Google would no longer be her old mugshot – if she could afford to get it removed.

"This is as close to extortion as you can get legally," said Daniel Bowes, an attorney with the North Carolina Justice Center.  "People are paying this money because their reputation is being held hostage."

Bowes said his group believes mugshots are not public records according to North Carolina law and that authorities should stop sharing them.

He also cautions that paying off one site doesn't prevent others from keeping your mugshot online, which can became a seemingly never-ending and expensive cycle. 

This is something McKean is becoming all too aware of now.

"This goes out to everyone who's been arrested for anything – found innocent or found guilty," McKean warns.  "You're on there right now."

So what can you do?  Check out this link to the North Carolina Justice Center where you can find resources relating to their N.C. Second Chance Alliance.

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