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Safeway Club Card Leads to Bogus Arson Arrest 505

Posted by michael
from the if-you're-innocent-you-have-nothing-to-fear dept.
Richard M. Smith writes "Tukwila, Washington firefighter, Philip Scott Lyons found out the hard way that supermarket loyalty cards come with a huge price. Lyons was arrested last August and charged with attempted arson. Police alleged at the time that Lyons tried to set fire to his own house while his wife and children were inside. According to KOMO-TV and the Seattle Times, a major piece of evidence used against Lyons in his arrest was the record of his supermarket purchases that he made with his Safeway Club Card. Police investigators had discovered that his Club Card was used to buy fire starters of the same type used in the arson attempt. For Lyons, the story did have a happy ending. All charges were dropped against him in January 2005 because another person stepped forward saying he or she set the fire and not Lyons."
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Safeway Club Card Leads to Bogus Arson Arrest

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  • The wife? (Score:2, Funny)

    by sjrstory (839289) *
    I'm thinking it was the wife who came forward and took responsibility for this crime. She probably had access to the Safeway Club Card, and most likely would not want to see her husband wrongfully convicted. I find it kind of sketchy that the prosecutor would not say who it is!
    • Re:The wife? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Or perhaps it turned out to be one of the kids...teenagers do strange things.
      If the kid us underage, that would explain why they kept the identity a secret.
    • Re:The wife? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:22AM (#11512552)
      It could have been anyone. You don't need your card to buy something under your name. Haven't you ever bought groceries before?

      You just go through the line and they say "do you have a Safeway Club Card?".

      You say, "I don't have it with me".

      The cashier will say "What's your last name and four digits of your telephone number?".

      Give them a last name and a telephone number. Voila. In other words, you could get all of the information necessary to frame the other person on the basis of a club card purchase, by looking in a telephone book. Any half assed lawyer would know that and have the trial and charges dismissed in a heartbeat.
      • It could have been anyone. You don't need your card to buy something under your name. Haven't you ever bought groceries before?

        I guess it's different at Safeway, but at the store i'm using for the moment, I have to provide a driver's license if I forget my card and still want to use my account.

        Glad i've seen this story now, at any rate. Going to be moving soon, and I sure won't be using Safeway wherever I end up.
        • Re:The wife? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Long-EZ (755920) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @08:47AM (#11512923)

          I have to provide a driver's license if I forget my card and still want to use my account.

          I can't believe everybody just queues up and plays their privacy invasion game. What's next? "Identify for retina scan" to buy a pint of Ben & Jerry's?

          The club cards are a paper thin scam. They raise prices slightly, then offer the club card to get slightly lower prices than they had before the card. Then, a couple of months later, after everyone is signed up, they raise the prices. You're now paying at least as much as you were before the card, and if you resist you're charged 30% more as a penalty for not voluntarily surrendering your personal information.

          US currency does still carry the phrase "legal tender", right? I guess they can legally force you to pay a 30% penalty for paying in cash.

          I'm not an anarchist, but it really is nobody's business if I want to buy a box of condoms, three tubes of KY jelly, 50 feet of rope and a jar of Smuckers (TM) strawberry jam.

          Coercing people into surrendering their personal information to buy groceries is wrong. It's an abuse of technology. That so few people complain about this loss of privacy is proof of how bad things are in the United States of Sheeple. Hopefully there will be some more high tech screw ups where people are falsely accused, or similar problems arise from using this dubious source of data, and people will finally awaken to what a shady scheme this is. Until that happens, I'll go out of my way to find one of the few stores that don't abuse my privacy. Have we really fallen so far that Safeway's desire for marketing data has now superseded our right to privacy?

          Every time I to argue for privacy like this, I get responses from neo-Nazis who comment, "If you didn't do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear." Well, apparently "nothing" includes being falsely accused of a felony and the public humiliation of being tried for attempting to burn your family to death in their sleep.

          Anybody remember when the police INVESTIGATED crimes, rather than just subpeona DNA, credit card records, phone records, Safeway records...?

          The fifth amendment guarantees that no US citizens can be forced to testify against themselves. If forcing some guy to provide a DNA sample isn't forcing him to testify against himself, I don't know what is.

          Technology itself isn't responsible for our eroding privacy, but it sure makes it easier for those who want the power that comes with all the collected personal data.

          • it really is nobody's business if I want to buy a box of condoms, three tubes of KY jelly, 50 feet of rope and a jar of Smuckers (TM) strawberry jam.

            That's disgusting!

            Now, grape jelly on the other hand...

          • by John3 (85454) <john3.cornells@com> on Saturday January 29, 2005 @01:14PM (#11514381) Homepage Journal
            Loyalty programs don't necessarily mean higher prices. Our hardware store [cornells.com] uses a loyalty program in order to offer special prices and rebates to our top customers. Our prices did not go up when we started the program, and we still run occasional sales that don't require a loyalty card. We ask for an address on the card application so we can mail the rebate check. We ask for a birthday (month only, and it's optional) so we can send a $10 certificate redeemable that month. Yes, if we wanted to we could discover who bought a plunger to clear their stopped up toilet, or who bought paint chemicals that could be used to make drugs. However, we also can look up your sale so you can return something even if you lost the receipt. We can reprint a receipt quickly if you need it for your taxes or a warranty repair.

            Obviously you give up a bit of information to gain some benefit, and that's the case in a myriad of things we do each day. You provide info for credit card applications, job applications, drivers license applications, purchasing items online, etc.

        • I don't (Score:3, Insightful)

          by prisoner (133137)
          I could use George Washington's card. They don't check those things.
      • Re:The wife? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AndroidCat (229562)
        I did the Green Room for a science-fiction convention and sometimes we'd be in the supermarket with a huge pile of groceries, and no one had an Air Miles card. So we'd ask the person behind us if they'd like the credit on their card. (Air Miles claims there's no tracking and it's all statistical .. sure it is.)

        No fire-starters in the party supplies that I remember, but it would make an interesting blip in someone's record. (Especially when we did the same in the liquor store afterwards. Hmm.. One bottle of

    • Depending on the circumstances the prosecutor might be loath to prosecute the child.

      His kid would have access to his Safeway card. (Another kid might have access to his phone number, which will work just as well.)

      The confessor is not being identified. (Also suggesting a child.)

      • well.. all the firestarting materials belonged to the family, according to the article anyways. so there was NO dispute about that they had bought the items in the first place. the firestarter had used materials that were there, it's not that uncomman I'd believe that a firestarter goes through someones garage and then finds some flammables and sets them on.

        so really.. what's the friggin deal with the card? it doesn't really prove anything since it was already known that the items belonged to the household
        • so really.. what's the friggin deal with the card?

          The deal is that the accused denied to have ever bought those firecrackers, and that the card records show that the purchase was booked on the card. And because the purchase was just a few weeks ago, the accused could probably not have forgotten that he actually bought the crackers, which made him suspicious.

          Of course his wife could have bought the firecrackers with the family card, and I don't know what the buying age is for children there. But most of t

    • denial (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Doc Ruby (173196)
      Or someone else who had access to the firestarters. The guy could have denied that he bought them when the cops asked if he had, trying to deny that he had anything to do with it (because he didn't). Lots of people's first instinct is to avoid any appearance of association with a bad act, especially when confronted by police, even if it can make them look more guilty later. In the moment, it's easier to deny, than to get arrested and convince the judge instead of just the cop.
    • clearly it was Mr Plum in the living room with the grill starter
  • Still thinking? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fembots (753724) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:04AM (#11512507) Homepage
    No decision has been made whether that person will be charged

    Are you kidding me? The wrongfully-accused was charged almost immediately, and now this guy fronted up and they're thinking about it?
    • Re:Still thinking? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by k98sven (324383) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:20AM (#11512545) Journal
      Are you kidding me? The wrongfully-accused was charged almost immediately, and now this guy fronted up and they're thinking about it?

      To engage in pure speculation: A possible situation could be that the fire was started by one of his kids. They would've had access to his card (and typically, kids don't have much cash either). The man's wife allegedly first spotted the fire, which makes me doubt it'd be her.

      This would explain both why the procecutor has not decided if they should be charged, and also why they're not providing any identification. Hanging a presumably already troubled kid out to dry in the media wouldn't be very constructive.
      • Re:Still thinking? (Score:2, Informative)

        by Johnny Fusion (658094)
        To engage in pure speculation: A possible situation could be that the fire was started by one of his kids. They would've had access to his card

        For Safeway, you don't even need the card -- just the phone number the card is associated with. I lost my card ages ago, but just put in the phone number I had when I got the card, and I get my discounts and my purchases tracked. It works all over the U.S. as I have done this in many states.

        • Re:Still thinking? (Score:2, Informative)

          by Skapare (16644)

          Most stores will let you provide the phone number in lieu of the actual card. Security is not generally much of a concern, as each usage only benefits the card owner ... it doesn't cost them anything (except when the data is misinterpreted by law enforcement, as was in this case, or other parties, such as your health or life insurance provider who thinks you are buying ... and eating ... too much cholesterol laden, heart artery clogging, foods).

          I've never applied for, nor received, any of these cards. I

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:11AM (#11512524)
    How did police get the record of his Safeway purchases??? Can I go to my local safeway and see my personal record of purchases? What is Safeways Privacy policy... OH NEVERMIND... forgot we live in post 9/11 america.
    • In the UK, we have something called the 'Data Protection Act', and part of this means that you have the right to obtain the personal information that a company holds on you (although a fee may be asked for, to cover administration costs).

      I believe that there are some restrictions on what you're able to access, though I'm not entirely sure on what these are. There's a lot more to the act though, and anybody interested can look here [informatio...ner.gov.uk]

  • Happy ending? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Seumas (6865) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:14AM (#11512531)
    His house was set on fire.
    He was charged with and arrested for arson.

    What part of this story is "happy"?

    The only thing that stood between him and serious prison time (not to mention probably losing all of his friends, family and destroying his career and reputation) was that the criminal who was responsible came forward. Do you know how rare that is? His "fortune" here was like falling off a 110 story building and having a huge gust of wind on a still day scoop you to safety at the very last second.

    Let's not even entertain the possibility that someone could have died in the fire. If that were the case, I bet nobody would have stepped forward and this guy would have taken the fall - all so Safeway could target their demographics better. More, he probably would have been sentenced to life in prison at the least and everyone would be cheering for his execution. Because, of course, he's guilty if he has been convited, so he should fry!

    This was a stomach-churning close-call.

    • His house was set on fire.
      He was charged with and arrested for arson.

      What part of this story is "happy"?

      He's not in prison?
    • Close call? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by xstonedogx (814876) <xstonedogx@gmail.com> on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:39AM (#11512591)
      I agree, there's not much happy about it.

      This was a stomach-churning close-call.

      I guess I have more faith in the system.

      They'd have to convince a jury that this "noble, hard working volunteer firefighter who loves his adoring family very much and just, out of the kindness of his own heart, adopted a child into his home and family", started a fire to kill them all.

      And apparently they planned on doing it with nothing but circumstantial evidence which would vanish once a trial started. Any defense lawyer worth a damn is going to have a Safeway employee on the stand explaining several different ways someone could use his Safeway Club Card #.

      • Re:Close call? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Rob Carr (780861) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @09:21AM (#11513049) Homepage Journal
        "They'd have to convince a jury that this "noble, hard working volunteer firefighter...."

        There's the conviction right there. The prosecuter brings in an FBI profiler who points out that firefighters are the first ones they check out when they're looking for an arsonist.

        Most firefighters are good, hardworking folks. But the profession (and it is, whether you get paid or volunteer) also attracts those who have an unhealthy fascination with fire or those who are driven by internal demons.

      • Re:Close call? (Score:3, Informative)

        by Rinikusu (28164)
        I know you might have more faith in the system, but I live right across the river from where the infamous "West Memphis Three" incident happened. Hell, all they had were some dark poems, a couple Metallica albums, and they sent 3 kids up the river, one is still on death row.

        It might be "circumstantial" evidence, but never put it past the power of a jury to do the most fucked up stupid things imaginable.
      • Very Close Call IMHO (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FreeUser (11483) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @11:36AM (#11513699)
        I guess I have more faith in the system.

        I don't.

        Here in Illinois, 50% of those on death row were proven by genetic analysis to be innocent of the crimes of which they had been convicted.

        50%.

        One in two people sentenced to death had been wrongly convicted, and were only exonerated pre-mortem because they happen to have enough appeals in place to postpone their executions until a technology came along able to prove they weren't the culprits. These people were in some cases convicted on evidence a hell of a lot more flimsy than a Safeway Club Card purchasing record, and they were sentenced to die.

        The numbers were so horrific that our Governor at the time, a Republican who until then had supported the death penalty, placed a moratorium on all further executions in the state, and rightly so.

        Of course, this "new" technology, like any other, is falable, and in a case like this one (where everything's gone up in smoke, and where the accused lived there anyway) entirely inapplicable, so lest someone think "but now we have this new panacea, so it won't happen anymore" I can only say, don't kid yourself.

        Justice in America is appallingly hap-hazard. Police are lazy. They latch onto a theory they like and make the facts fit their expectations. The lose, damage, and misinterpret evidence all the time. District Attorney's persue careers based on rates of conviction, and often have little concern for the actual guilt or innocence of those they are convicting (there have been a couple in recent memory here in Chicago who have been proven to knowingly convict innocent people, in at least one case because he was more interested in putting the scapegoat behind bars and looking good to an angry public than in serving justice).

        Having served on a couple of juries, I can say from my own experience that juries are faced with severely filtered and diluted information, outright misinformation, and a great deal of emotional manipulation from both sides. Their odds of getting something right don't seem to be much higher than what we would get if we simply flipped a coin to determine guilt or innocence.

        I understand people who break and run when accused of a crime they didn't commit. The prisons are full of people wrongly convicted, and the streets with people who got away scot-free (and of course the opposite is also true, the prisons are also full of guilty people correctly convicted, and the streets with people justly acquited). It is an utter crapshoot as to whether or not you are correctly found guilty or notguilty, or incorrectly found notguilty or guilty, and this guy got incredibly lucky.
      • Re:Close call? (Score:3, Informative)

        If someone knew his phone number, they could have punched it into the system and voila, his safeway card was used for the purchases!

        A smart defense attorney should have been able to point that out.

        Now, if Safeway had video surveilance of everyeone that purchased something, and could link the picture to the transaction, then there'd be evidence. Lacking that, the use of a discount card, especially at safeway, is useless as proof that someone did something.

    • Re:Happy ending? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by k98sven (324383) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:41AM (#11512598) Journal
      The only thing that stood between him and serious prison time (not to mention probably losing all of his friends, family and destroying his career and reputation) was that the criminal who was responsible came forward.

      Uh, that and an actual trial and conviction, then. Yes.

      You're assuming here that the guy would have been found guilty. Which you would think is a big assumption, given that he in fact was innocent.

      Innocent people are put trial every day. It's not a pleasant thing, but it's the only way the system can work, unless we somehow attain police and procecutors who never make mistakes.

      But it's not just the procecutors. Courts make mistakes too, which is why you have the right to appeal. Depite all that, innocent people sometimes do get convicted. And that's the real tragedy, although it seems it more often has to do with incompetent defense lawyers (It'd be nice if the state provided people who could stay awake [sanluisobispo.com]).

      But as I said, this was nowhere near a close call.
      • Re:Happy ending? (Score:5, Informative)

        by thomasa (17495) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @08:14AM (#11512817)
        Sorry, just being charged can ruin your reputation.
      • Re:Happy ending? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Epistax (544591)
        Always down to the lawyers. I know I'd have to get a lawyer if I was ever accused of something, but that fact is simply terrible. Why the defense of "I wasn't there, I was over here at the time. Here's the five people who were with me." isn't enough to stop circumstantial evidence, I haven't a clue. Hiring a lawyer when you have a two sentence defense is to hire a lier for he'll speak far more than two sentences.

        If the evidence against someone leaves the defendant without a shadow of a doubt guilty, b
  • What issue? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bonch (38532) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:15AM (#11512533)
    I can't help thinking Michael posted this so that we could get up in arms, but that's how the system (and life in general) works. It's not always flawless and perfect, and legal investigations can sometimes lead to other areas that turn out to be incorrect. It's likely the authorities would have figured it out eventually. Not that I don't feel for the guy, getting wrongly arrested. But if it happened to me, and it was because of the kind of "evidence" described here, I wouldn't feel wronged in any way. I would understand that it was a valid mistake.
    • Re:What issue? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865)
      You wouldn't feel wronged that a private company's database of every purchse you've made with them (which is used to help them decide which customers are good and which are bad - so they don't focus on the cheapskates who only show up for discount products) was handed over to the police and then some random purchase made on your card was used against you to not only make you a suspect, but CHARGE you?

      Remember, he was CHARGED. You would hope the police would have figured it out before CHARGING him.

      Do you k
    • Re:What issue? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dago (25724) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:26AM (#11512563)
      ... also if you were sentenced to death for a crime you didn't commit ?

      • Who got sentenced to death? For that matter, who actually got convicted of anything? You have an accusation that was dropped upon further investigation. Calm the fuck down.
    • For me, this is just more reasons why invasions of privacy are a bad thing. If there is no data, then it can't be misinterpreted.
      • I'd hardly call a supermarket club card an "invasion of privacy." Need I say that the program is voluntary?

        That said, I am sick to death of all the stores that ask for your phone number when you buy something. Once an auto parts store (at the dealer, no less) let me walk out without buying the part I needed because I refused to give them my name, address, and phone number. Several years ago I invented a number that I give in all such cases. I've even gone into stores where I wasn't sure I'd been before
        • > Need I say that the program is voluntary?

          The fact that it's voluntary is not the issue. The issue is that you don't kow what they're doing with the information they gather, and it seems you have no control over it.
    • Re:What issue? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Zareste (761710)
      I would understand that it was a valid mistake.

      Says someone who wasn't imprisoned for life.

      Yeah let's just take our Prozac tell ourselves everything is good this way. Life in general is meant to be spent in a cell; it's just the way of things.

      Those police, unlike all the other police in history and every court case known to man and without any precedent, would have proven he's innocent, instead of adding him to the overflowing prisons full of everyone else who was in a similar situation.
    • That's kinda obvious.

      If the system was perfect then we could do away with trials, lawyers and judges and just shoot the criminals.
    • Re:What issue? (Score:2, Insightful)

      "But if it happened to me, and it was because of the kind of "evidence" described here, I wouldn't feel wronged in any way. I would understand that it was a valid mistake. "

      Trust me, when it happens to you, you WILL feel wronged. You see, when they arrest you, they will do it in one of two ways. If you're lucky they'll get you when you're alone, with noone around to witness them brutalizing you. If you're unlucky, they'll get you at work, school, in front of your children, or some other humiliating situat

  • by aepervius (535155) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:15AM (#11512536)
    Which explain why there was at yet no charge retained against the new suspect. Nevertheless to those usually saying "if you have nothing to hide you do not need privacy" well this is one example of WHY we want privacy. Instead of searching for hard proof, the police seems to have only concentrated on circumstancial evidence (supermarket sale, and dog go right to the door).
    • well.. would 'privacy' really have helped all that much?

      the dog pointed the house as the place where the firestarter went, too.

      guesswork policework is shit, if you need privacy to cover your ass from polices who guess who did it and then make up the evidence.. then you already need a change of scene, no amount of privacy would help.
  • by pg133 (307365) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:37AM (#11512588)
    Magistrate fined for keeping lost Rolex [telegraph.co.uk]

    A magistrate who found a £3,250 Rolex watch in a supermarket and gave it to his wife as a 60th birthday present was fined £600 after being found guilty of theft.

    Rowlett, a building surveyor, was caught almost two years later after taking the watch for repair at a jewellers near his home in Poole.

    It was identified from its serial number as having been lost or stolen.

    Inquiries with Tesco, through its Club Card loyalty scheme records, and receipts of purchases showed Rowlett had been in the shop within two hours of Mrs Scott
  • You can just give them a phone number to get the discount, so use your friends/bosses/relatives. (At least here, in N.Cali, you can. I do it all the time.) For extra fun, use your bosses number while buying fifty bucks worth of saran wrap and baby oil at three in the morning. I know there was a guy who had a project going to get a bunch of people to use his card. I believe it was linked on /., actually. Given that you can do all of the above (without whoever owns the card knowing about it), whoever wa
  • by femto (459605) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:44AM (#11512608) Homepage
    Five years ago, the Australian Government mistakenly released a report [efa.org.au], which covered this exact scenario. Here is the relevant quote, which was supposed to never be seen by the public:
    6.3.4 The relationship of these agencies with AUSTRAC may well prove crucial once encryption becomes more pervasive. Major subjects of investigation, whether they be narcotics suppliers or distributors, pornography distributors, money-launderers or terrorists, rely and will continue to rely on the banking system to provide value to their transactions. The 'money trail', provided by credit and smart-cards, not to ignore
    fly-buys, may well provide a continuously available hand-rail in a darkening investigative world.

    The emphasis is mine.

    Fly-buys is a large loyalty scheme in Australia. AUSTRAC are the spooks responsible for tracing money as it flows through the economy.

    Basically, the government is well aware of the abilty of loyalty schemes to trace otherwise untraceable cash transactions, and they would rather the public didn't know about it (as proven by the bungled attempt at censorship).

  • Ob Privacy reminder (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 29, 2005 @06:49AM (#11512621)
    From the CASPIAN FAQ [nocards.org]:

    Q. Can club card records be seized by law enforcement agencies?

    Absolutely. In fact, law enforcement has already been digging around in people's food purchase files -- which is part of why these records scare me. I personally don't feel like it is a supermarket's place to get involved in catching criminals, and even if I did, I couldn't support the collection of this sort of detailed, intimate information on tens of millions of Americans on the off chance one or two of them might have committed a crime.

    Constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure have (somewhat and so far) succeeded in keeping the government from digging around in the affairs of innocent citizens. But when private companies (like supermarkets) do the digging for them, law enforcement doesn't have to worry about that pesky Constitution. Let the private sector do the privacy violation and all you need is a search warrant to access what you wouldn't have been authorized to collect yourself.

    Bear in mind, too, that someday the "crime catching" tables may be turned on you. Say down the road you get involved in a lawsuit and the opposition subpoenas your shopping record. Or an ex-spouse uses your file to show that you're not a fit parent. (After all, what fit parent buys condoms? Or beer? Or cholesterol-laden mocha fudge ripple ice cream?) Once information about your shopping habits is stored somewhere it will hang like ripe fruit; anyone who can get a warrant or a subpoena will have a wealth of information that can be distorted to make you look bad.

    The only way to prevent these abuses of your shopping information is to make sure it is never collected in the first place.

    • Trouble with that approach is that the records may also prove you innocent. And what about CCTV records or phone records or credit card transactions? All (or nearly all) are owned and tracked by private companies. Yet, in a lot of cases, they have been core to fingering serious criminals.

      I take the 'overwhelmed by data' approach. Here in the UK, you cannot avoid being seen in high quality colour in just about any built-up area or mall. We are the most watched country in the world. Yet crime has not
    • Ah, but you missed the small print at the end:

      "Covering you supermarket card with tin foil keeps Big Brother from detecting it's presence, therefore buying you a significant measure of safety."

      Meh. Not bad for 0542 in the morning if you ask me...
  • Anonymous card (Score:2, Informative)

    by reflx (760179)
    A couple of months ago i visited the US for a few weeks. At a Safeway store i asked for a club card and got one without filling in any form. She didn't even ask, perhaps because she knew i was a foreigner. In my home country all my discount cards are anonymous. I just refuse to give my personal data. Works all the time.
  • If all you want is the occasional discount at the register, use made up info. No chain has yet refused to enroll Mr A T Hun,Brad Majors,Bat Guano, or Jesus H Christ.
  • These absolutely conlusive datas, like digital data (used in this case) or genetic data (very similar because it is unique) bear a great danger. Since this data seems to be so unmistakable people think that the hint itself (pointing to a guilty or innocent person) is to be taken for granted too.

    I could get a few hairs from someone, murder his wife, spread his hairs all over the place and the police would most probably think it was him (he was in his bed sleeping at home with nobody to witness)

    BUT ITS just
    • ...few hairs from someone, murder his wife, spread his hairs all over the place...

      My guess is that they're probably on his wife anyway. You'd need something more conclusive like fingerprints I suspect.
  • ... about privacy issues [aclu.org]

    Oh, wait! There IS [aclu.org]
  • Remember this... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by laughingcoyote (762272) <barghesthowl.excite@com> on Saturday January 29, 2005 @07:34AM (#11512722) Journal

    If you should ever find yourself on a jury. Chances are, had this gone to trial, he would've been convicted, and be in jail right now.

    All the evidence is circumstantial and really pretty flimsy. The dog circling to the front door? Well of course he's going to detect that the family was in their own yard. While from movies we get these impressions of "superdogs" that do police work, in reality, such dogs are quite prone to make mistakes.

    So his club card (not, apparently, his credit card-examine what's NOT said. The credit card would've been far stronger evidence. Had he used that, they would've worried about getting evidence from that and not even been concerned with the club card.) was used to make the purchases. So what? I signed up for my club card with bogus information. Sometimes, I forget the card, and I have no idea what BS phone number I put down, so I use my boss's phone #. He must have one of those cards, it always works. But I've certainly never been asked to verify my identity when doing so.

    The real moral of this story-cops and prosecutors are often overzealous. When you are on a jury, do not ask yourself "Does it look like this guy did it?" Ask yourself instead "Has it been proven to me, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this person did it? Would I stake x years of my life on the fact that this guy did it?" Because you are staking years of someone's life on your decision. If you cannot say "I am sure"-even if you can say "I'm almost sure"-the vote is not guilty. Even if the other 11 say otherwise. Stick it out and hang the jury if you have to, but do NOT condemn a person guilty unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure. People are exonerated every day because some jury thought "probably did it" equated to "for-sure did it."

  • I mean it is winter, people do have fireplaces, Stores whan to ship what sells. There is a good chance the different stores will have the same brand of fires starters. Or it could have been bought from the same store. Heck really invade peoples privacy and check everyones to see if they got the fire starters to and convict them all.
  • has he burned his 'loyalty card' yet?

    I would suggest not doing it in his house!
  • by DeanFox (729620) * <spam,myname&gmail,com> on Saturday January 29, 2005 @08:24AM (#11512845)

    The only way to make bogus data work, name address, etc. is to use cash 100% of the time.

    The moment you tie a member card to a transaction paid by cheque, debit card or whatever, there is now a link between you and the card. From that moment on, that card, bogus data or not, will be linked to you.

    That's why many stores don't care if you fill out the application using the name Micky Mouse then you turn around and pay by debit card or cheque. Or a store manager upon asking will give you a card without filling out an application and then you turn around and pay by cheque. The minute the transaction is processed, your profile, the cards data, is updated with the new information.

    There's not just one name linked to a card either. Swap with friends and all that does is link another name to the card. They still have records of this person bought this and this other person bought that.

    My local store, if all you tell them is you forgot your card, they say no problem and the cashier scans a store card kept at the register. So what? As long as you pay by anything other than cash, a new transaction is created that can be cross referenced back to you. You don't think for a minute that debit card numbers, bank account numbers etc. are *not* part of the member card transaction record?

    Member cards were a solution to group transactions by cross reference. One household may have 6-7 methods of paying. One couple has seperate checking accounts, their own credit/debit cards, that's four methods right there. Add different credit cards and now a household may have 7 ways to pay. Member cards were introduced only to help group these transactions into a larger household picture. Household demographics is what they're after, "household" is the holy grail of demographics.

    They lost this household demographic when they started to accepted plastic as payment. Ever notice member cards were not introduced until stores started taking CC/Debit cards for payments? They've been tracking purchases for 30 years. Back then, joint checking accounts were common and paying by cheque was the only method other than cash. Back then household demographics was a simplier excerise. It's worth a few cents off an inflated price to incurage you to help them group these new plastic transactions by household.

    So, except that the government has caught on that this can be a wealth of information, this is nothing new. Unless you use cash 100% of the time you're not beating the system the way you think you are by filling out the application with false data.
  • by stereoroid (234317) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @09:01AM (#11512957) Homepage Journal
    Scenario:
    - you apply for health insurance;
    - your insurer looks up your loyalty card records, and says "I see you've been buying fatty foods, pizza, chips, chocolate. "
    - same insurer checks your credit card records: "I see no Gym payments here, you don't work out, do you?"
    - "At least you don't smoke, then we'd refuse to insure you at all."
    - "OK, we can insure you, it will just cost you much more, because of your lifestyle. We will use any excuse to charge you more."

    The same goes for life insurance, or car insurance if you are noted buying alcohol.

    I know about the UK Data Protection Act and similar EU laws (I'm a Brit living in Ireland) - I've had people tell me not to worry, this can't happen, the law prevents it. Yes, they do - today - but these laws were put in place by politicians, and can be nullified just as easily, if an apparent reason emerges.

    Example: in the UK, what if the Health Secretary is told that prioritizing NHS treatment in this way will save £billions? There goes your legal protection. It might not need to go to a Parliament vote, with the powers (s)he already has. Checking your records for apparent negligence on your part is a lot cheaper than putting you through a physical examination, right?
    • Insurance companies will one day acheive it, and not only that, it will be voluntary on behalf of the customers. I don't know how such laws are written, bun unless they prohibit customers voluntarily submitting this information, they will do nothing to stop it.

      First, they'll have an opt-in program where you submit evidence of your 'healthy' lifestyle, citing supermarket card tracking permission and such, in exchange, they'll be some sort of healthy living discount/rebate.

      After it becomes widespread, they
      • you forget about competition of which there is plenty. If the payouts are lower than the rates will be lower. If the discounted rates become equal it will be because of inflation. Also it is not that bad of an idea to charge unhealthy people more for health care. Give a person two options.

        a. live more healthy
        b. pay more money

        This would kill the obesity problem. The only thing that ever affects people is money.

        The problem as always just lies in the implementation. If you buy your vegetables at the
  • The amazing thing to me is that the data that safeway, giant and all of the other supermarket chains are collecting is pretty much the holy grail of marketing. At least as far as I understand it anyway. Back in the .com hayday this was what everyone wanted to know - more and more about each customer so that the website could ostensibly be tailored to each visitor. If you had good customer data you could get almost anyone to advertise or sponsor who was interested in your segment. Near as I can tell, the
  • by blueZhift (652272) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @09:20AM (#11513043) Homepage Journal
    Cases like this just remind us that there's no such thing as anonymity, at least not anymore. Unless you live alone and isolated in a cave somewhere (or a small cabin say, heh), someone, somewhere knows who you are. So how does one deal with this? Fake data? Use cash only? Nah, just act like a celebrity! Do everything as if everyone knows who you are, what you are doing, and who you are doing it with/to. In the age of computers and the internet, we are all stars on stage.
  • by bwass24 (687639) * on Saturday January 29, 2005 @10:01AM (#11513264) Homepage
    Having run the loyalty card systems for this and a few other large grocery chains in the early 90's, I have seen a ton of horror stories related to the use of the data.

    Some examples:
    -A large chain of grocery stores that also had pharmacys sold the data about what medications their customers bought to an insurance company. The insurance company ran the medication list against each policy holder's health insurance info and then cancelled people who bought drugs like heart medication without the insurance company being aware of it.

    -Another chain had a promotion tied to their loyalty cards that gave customers a turkey for Thanksgiving based on how much they spent and it also gave them more stuff is they bought specific things. When the statement of exactly what was purchased came to the chain's CEO's home, it revealed to his wife that he bought huge amounts of flowers for his mistress and it resulted in his divorce.

    -A single mother who had just lost her young son in a car accident bought some baby gifts in a chain grocery store and used her frequent shopper card when she paid in order to get a small discount. The purchases of these items caused her to be flagged as a new mother and be immediately put on a ton of mailing lists relating to "the joy of motherhood", etc. Hardly a pleasant reminder after losing her only child.

    I guess that my point in posting this is that the privacy issues with these cards are quite far reaching. They can have real personal impact and their use should be considered VERY CAREFULLY. They can have benefits that one might find valuable, but they can have devistating and totally unforseen consequences.

    Caviat Carrier?
  • The real issue here (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @10:30AM (#11513366) Homepage
    There are a few things that stand out for me:

    - You could be accused of crime based almost solely on things you bought at the store. The dude put out the fire and called 911. Not exactly a bright arsonist, now is he? I blame the prosecutors as much as the cops. Who looks at a shopping receipt and a tracking dog and thinks they have a case against the person who put the fire out? And the dude was a fire fighter. You'd think someone with intimate knowledge of the business could come up with something that isn't going to leave as much evidence behind.

    - Once information about you exists somewhere it can be used for things you might not be able to envision at the time you turned the information over. You bought kerosene for a space heater, fertilzer for your lawn, some batteries and a spare garage door opener because your wife's car is a purse on wheels and she lost it. Then one day Homeland Security is showing up at your door. Unfortunately that's not unreasonably paranoid these days.

    Still think you have nothing to hide? What's really pathetic is that people who really know trade craft and are willing to actually do something bad with those materials also know how to make it difficult to track their purchases. If they have an organized network some of those materials may have been purchased months or years previously by middle buyers now long gone who had no idea why they were buying two tons of fertilizer a few bags at a time.

  • Here's a tip. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NoData (9132) <{_NoData_} {at} {yahoo.com}> on Saturday January 29, 2005 @11:07AM (#11513551)
    Shopping for the tools for your next crime? Pay cash, don't buy locally, and FOR GOD SAKE DON'T USE A #$@# SHOPPER'S CLUB CARD!

    Trust me, getting caught won't justify the $0.30 savings you got on the matches and lighter fluid.

    I don't know who's stupider: An arsonist who actually used a shopper's club card, or the police for assuming the arsonist was so stupid as to use a shopper's club card (and not to frame someone else). You would THINK the latter would be one of the first hypotheses entertained by the police before they go off and charge the guy whose name is attached to the card.
  • Goddamnit. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dogun (7502) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @12:28PM (#11514076) Homepage
    There is a reason we have rules on gathering evidence. For example, going into someone's financial records without anything more than a hunch is just that.

    I've been saying for years that investigative techniques for computer crime are insufficient - maybe it's across the board.

    Think it would help if we pulled shows like CSI and Law&Order off the air?
  • by yellowstone (62484) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @12:28PM (#11514079) Homepage Journal
    Because
    1. You don't need to present a shred of identification to get a card -- you don't even have to give the right address, since they give it to you right when you apply for it.

    2. You don't even need an actual card -- stores will allow you to enter a phone number in place of swiping the card -- and there's no way for them to know if you enter the right number.
    If this was critical evidence in their case, they didn't have a case. (In which case, it's no surprise they jumped on the 3rd party who came forward to confess).
    • They don't need you to put the correct info either. The first time you write a check or use a credit/check card they harvest the info and apply it to your shopping card. Remaining anonymous only works if you always use cash and make sure you NEVER use a check or card.
  • by JGski (537049) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @12:54PM (#11514243) Journal
    For those who haven't been on a jury, this case illustrates how easily people can get tried and convicted on circumstantial evidence. This particular case is more the exception than the rule unfortunately: exonerating evidence in the form of a confession got him off the hook. Plenty more people get sent to jail for long hauls on far less evidence here in the US. Then consider the death penalty cases...
  • Here's a tip.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dustinbarbour (721795) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @01:28PM (#11514457) Homepage
    Don't even give them your name and address. I've got a loyalty card from one of the major supermarkets here in the southwestern US. They ofered me the form and the card at the same time. I told them I didn't have time to fill it out now, so they told me to just return the form next time I was in. So I walked out the door and threw the form in the trash. The next time I was there, they swiped my card and I got all the discounts.

    And they don't even know that I exist.
  • by fleener (140714) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @04:05PM (#11515401)
    I'd hate to see what my Safeway shopping card [cockeyed.com] would get me arrested for.
  • hrm (Score:3, Funny)

    by dizee (143832) on Saturday January 29, 2005 @05:31PM (#11515976) Homepage
    i read that title as "boson argon arrest"

    i was quite interested until i realized my mistake...now it's just boring arson.

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