Saturday, January 29, 2005

Loyalty card almost leads to wrongful conviction for arson

The records of a man's purchases compiled by a supermarket loyalty program almost led to his wrongful conviction on arson charges in Washington state. A veteran firefighter was suspected of the crime and his Safeway Club Card revealed a purchase of the store-brand firestarter. He was arrested in October and what would have appeared to be a slam-dunk prosecution had to be abandoned when someone else came forward and took responsibility.

The personal information collected through loyalty programs and other means are a double-edged sword. On one hand, purchase records can provide an alibi that the suspect, for example, was in a different location. On the other hand, otherwise innocuous purchases that are recorded can be interpreted to incriminate someone, perhaps inappropriately. There is also a big risk that too much weight will be put on this evidence, when there is no confirmation of who actually used the card.

Slashdot | Safeway Club Card Leads to Bogus Arson Arrest:

"Posted by michael on Saturday January 29, @06:03AM

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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