The Safeway E-Mail Hoax

On August 9, 2000 hundreds of Safeway customers in Britain received an e-mail informing them that Safeway was planning a 25% price increase and recommending that if they were unhappy about this rise in prices they should plan to shop elsewhere, such as at the rival chains Tesco or Sainsbury.

The e-mail appeared to come from Safeway itself. It was headed with the company's e-mail address and was signed "from the Safeway team."

In response to the e-mail, over 1,000 customers telephoned the store to complain. The management of Safeway was surprised to hear from them since, as far as they knew, such an e-mail had never been sent out.

It turned out that a hacker had somehow broken into Safeway's computer database, acquiring access to details on over 25,000 Safeway customers. The hacker had then sent out the fake e-mail from within Safeway's system, making it appear to be a legitimate Safeway communication. Safeway was unable to determine whether the hoax was an inside job, or had come from outside the company.

After the hoax Safeway closed its company web site. The site remained closed for a number of weeks.