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Haunted by a mugshot: how predatory websites exploit the shame of arrest

[ – 6/12/18]

Gregory Rakoczy was asleep in his van at a Maryland campsite when six police officers knocked on his door. A fellow camper had Googled his name and found a mugshot indicating he was a felon on the run. He was not.

Rakoczy was arrested and held for 20 hours. Afterward he immediately Googled his own name and found that his picture had recently gone up on for criminal charges he had faced 15 years ago.

At that time Rakoczy ran a company that installed audiovisual equipment in homes. He was charged with fraud after his firm sold dozens of clients one model of TV but installed a different one – a mistake he said was made by a distributor, but one he should have noticed.

Most of the 90 charges – one for every person sold the wrong TV – were dismissed after he replaced the TVs, and he spent five years on probation for the remaining ones.

He contacted to take the picture down and they demanded $399, which he paid. But the next day he saw his picture was still on the site and he called them again.

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If you are a victim of this kind of harassment, I have advice regarding some successes I’ve had without spending a dime.

1. File a complaint with the webhost. Often such publications violate the Terms of Service. I’ve got entire websites taken down. Use “whois” websites to identify webhosts and webservers. Threaten litigation if you have to. For example, is hosted on Amazon Cloud (AWS).

2. Threaten to expose the website operators. Most of these sites rely on anonymity for the creators. I’ve had luck threatening to sue and threatening to use the lawsuit to reveal the publishers identies.

3. File DMCA notices, even if the mugshot isn’t your copyright – DMCA can cover a lot of things and most often companies (publishers, webhosts, etc) will simply remove the content rather than risk litigation or verify copyright ownership.

4. Request Google to de-index the site or image. This is especially useful if the site or image includes personal information that violates Google’s privacy policies.

5. Use the “Report Image” functionality in Google when you do an image search. This can help remove negative images from top search results if you are persistent.

6. Flood the internet with positive information (or misinformation) about yourself. Some examples to do this include making numerous free WordPress blogsites, tumblr, flickr, social media, linkedin, and so on. If you can afford about $20/year, make a website in which the domain is your legal name and fill it with good things. This all helps suppress the negative results and research has shown that the vast majority of people don’t look past the first page or two of search engine results.

7. File for a Protection from Harassment Order (restraining order). Often this can be done very cheaply or for free, especially if you have low income to qualify for a fee waiver. I got a court in Maine to grant a protective order against a Massachusetts group harassing me online. Statutes defining harassment are often very broad and publishers will sometimes prefer to simply remove content rather than deal with litigation and court hearings.

8. If you’re a California resident and fall into one of several classifications such as being a victim of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, etc. (and California law would likely determine websites like constitute stalking), then you can apply for the Safe At Home program. This program, among other things, forces all publishers and search engines to remove all personal and identifying information about you from the internet. And you have the State of California to back you up and enforce fines if the publishers fail to remove the information. Remember, Google and many other major webhosts are based in California. You can find out more about Safe At Home here:

Finally, the State of California has a Privacy Enforcement & Protection Unit, which handles complaints regarding the vast area or privacy laws in this state. You can read more or submit a complaint here:

I guess I am a little slow. Beginning in the mid 90s I open a web design shop. I operated the business for 7 years ultimately building database driven web sites for mid-sized business and hosting. I sold the company to a competitor. The simple idea of building reputation improvement web sites for my name and search engine optimizing them as I did for my previous customers never even crossed my mind…..duh!!!! I have been so busy wallowing in self pity and feeling victimized that fighting back with a skill set I was very good at never crossed my mind……..doh face palm!

Thanks Sunny. You made my day.

There is a site called BrandYourself which will help you with search results. They have a basic free service, a monthly service which is a little under $10 a month, and a personal consultation service (even on the phone) which is significantly more.

This is pretty gross! I remember years ago doing a self background check after my misdemeanor was expunged! My original charges where showing as my conviction? I called the company and asked for their info (name of person I was speaking to/address)? They wouldn’t provide it? They where demanding I go to the court (1 hour away) and fax them the expungement? Totally gross. I wanted to kill the (sorry) guy

You should of informed them that if you needed to go to court, it would be to sue them for defamation.

I just saw my info on a new one, It’s the first time this has come up on a search with my name.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x