Two men alleged to be co-owners of a website called mugshots.com have been arrested on suspicion of extortion.
Thomas Keesee and Sahar Sarid have been charged alongside two others – Kishore Bhavnanie and David Usdan – with operating the site connected to extortion, money laundering and identity theft.
They apparently ran the website which mined data from police and sheriffs’ websites and collected the names, booking photos and charges without the individuals’ consent and hosted them for the world to see.
The site then allegedly refused to remove the criminal record information until the subject of the photograph agreed to pay them a fee.
According to the legal complaint, the defendants allegedly extracted more than $2m (£1.48m) from approximately 5,703 individuals across the US over a three-year period.
“This pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off of someone else’s humiliation,” said California’s attorney general Xazier Becerra.
“Those who can’t afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing, or try to build relationships with others. This is exploitation, plain and simple.”
“This is the case even if the subject had charges dismissed or had been arrested due to mistaken identity or law enforcement error,” according to Mr Becerra.
“Those subjects who cannot pay the fee may subsequently be denied housing, employment, or other opportunities because their booking photo is readily available on the internet.”
The website is currently online.
It is not clear what will happen to the site before the men go to court.