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Credit cards have become such a universal form of payment it is easy to forget their use is a two-way street. It isn't enough for a merchant to want to accept credit cards -- the issuing company has to agree to add that business to its network as well.
And every once in a while, credit card companies decide they don't want to do business with certain merchants. That's exactly why, in a short while, you may no longer be able to use a credit card to remove your mug shot from the Web.
Mug shot removal is big business
Nothing has the potential to deep-six job offers or potential relationships like a mug shot topping the Google search results for your name.
However, for some individuals this is exactly what employers and first dates will find when searching a name online. It isn't the county or state criminal records that are popping up, either. Instead, a handful of websites have made it their (very profitable) business to air dirty laundry.
These websites may argue they are doing a community service. For example, the home page of JustMugshots.com includes this little justification:
"We believe that you have a right to be informed. The right to high-quality accessible information about the arrests in your area; to know if your neighbors or even your son's little league coach has been arrested. [sic]"
Of course, this begs the question -- if JustMugshots believes we have a right to be informed, why are they willing to remove the incriminating information for anyone shelling out a minimum of $144.97? That may be pricey, but it is a bargain compared to the $399 one must pay to get a single arrest and photo removed from Mugshots.com.
Credit card companies bowing out of this extortion scheme
It is hard to argue mug shot websites are much more than a means to extort money from people with embarrassing secrets. They provide little useful information and nothing that isn't already available to the public on government-controlled sex-offender registries and other public records.
Now, the major credit card companies are deciding whether they wish to be a part of the shady dealings of these websites. Discover, Visa, MasterCard and American Express (American Express is a CardRatings.com advertiser) reportedly have decided to bow out of the business by removing mug shot websites from their merchant networks.
A recent expose in The New York Times apparently spurred the credit card companies to action, but follow-through has been slow for some companies. A week after the companies said they would eliminate their connections to mug shot websites, CNN reported only American Express had actually done so.
Meanwhile, Discover, Visa and MasterCard all told the news agency they were still investigating the matter or waiting to give banks servicing the sites an opportunity to review the situation.
With mug shot sites facing a class-action lawsuit, the ethical questions surrounding them don't seem to be going away any time soon. It may just be a matter of time before we can add mug shot sites as one more place you can't use your credit cards.