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Identity Theft Leads to Child-Porn Arrest Nightmare

It's every Internet user's worst nightmare.

Simon Bunce of Hampshire, England, not only had his credit-card number stolen online but was arrested and falsely accused of being a pedophile when that card number was used to buy child pornography.

Before you think "that's a clever excuse," the story has a somewhat happy ending, as Bunce eventually was fully cleared by police.

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Yet that only came after he'd lost his $250,000-a-year job, his father and siblings stopped talking to him and his computer was taken away for several months, the BBC reports.

Bunce had the misfortune of being caught up in Operation Ore, a massive British online kiddie-porn crackdown in 2003 that itself grew out of Operation Avalanche, an earlier American bust which began with a 1999 raid on Landslide Productions, a Texas mom-and-pop operation that handled credit-card transactions for porn Web sites.

Most of Landslide's customers were perfectly legal, if sleazy. But several were selling child pornography, and American authorities handed over a list of British credit-card numbers allegedly used to buy such stuff to their colleagues across the pond.

However, whereas the Americans used the names to cajole U.S. customers to buy more kiddie porn and then arrested them, the Brits put the cart before the horse and in early 2002 began simply rounding up everyone in the U.K. — about 7,200 people — whose card numbers showed up on the list.

Among them were rock star Pete Townshend of the Who, Robert del Naja of '90s trip-hop band Massive Attack — and, in 2004, Simon Bunce.

Bunce was arrested "on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children, downloading indecent images of children and incitement to distribute indecent images of children" — all before a single image of such had been found on his computers at home and at work.

He quickly found himself unemployed and estranged from his family. But his wife stuck by him, and while his computer sat in police custody waiting to be examined, Bunce took action.

"I knew there'd been a fundamental mistake made and so I had to investigate it," he said.

Bunce used the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and a catalog of Internet Protocol addresses to establish that his credit-card number had been used in Jakarta, Indonesia, to buy child pornography online at the same moment he used the card to pay the bill at a London restaurant.

He also found that his card number had been stolen from a popular online-retail site, though he wouldn't say which one.

Finally, after several months, the police admitted what Bunce already had proven — he was innocent, and there was no evidence of child pornography on his computer.

He finally got another job — selling computer-security services.

• Click here to read the full story at the BBC, and here for more background on Operation Ore and the subsequent inquiry into British police mistakes.