Security Risks of Frequent-Shopper Cards
This is from Richard M. Smith:
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 the 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 set the fire and not Lyons. Lyons is now back at work after more than 5 months of being on administrative leave from his firefighter job.
The moral of this story is that even the most innocent database can be used against a person in a criminal investigation turning their lives completely upside down.
Safeway needs to be more up-front with customers about the potential downsides of shopper cards. They should also provide the details of their role in the arrest or Mr. Lyons and other criminal cases in which the company provided Club Card purchase information to police investigators.
Here is how Safeway currently describes their Club Card program in the Club Card application:
We respect your privacy. Safeway does not sell or lease personally identifying information (i.e., your name, address, telephone number, and bank and credit card account numbers) to non-affiliated companies or entities. We do record information regarding the purchases made with your Safeway Club Card to help us provide you with special offers and other information. Safeway also may use this information to provide you with personally tailored coupons, offers or other information that may be provided to Safeway by other companies. If you do not wish to receive personally tailored coupons, offers or other information, please check the box below. Must be at least 18 years of age.