A 39-year-old successfully hacked the emails of students and staff at two Philadelphia-area colleges — and obtained their personally identifiable information — but cost him no cent in his failed tax return attempt, authorities say.
Timothy Spillane of Chester Springs pleaded guilty to “accessing a protected computer network without permission” in the incident, according to a Jan. 24 press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Authorities say Spillane hacked into the emails of about 25 college students and employees before obtaining identifying information, including W-2 tax forms and student financial information.
The defense attorney representing Spillane did not immediately respond to a request for a statement from McClatchy News.
With the information he obtained about his victims, Spillane then attempted to file fraudulent tax returns, according to the press release. Officials say he even admitted that he created emails, prepaid phones and bank accounts in the victims’ names so he could get tax refunds.
But, authorities say Spillane’s plan was thwarted because he could not accurately estimate the victims’ adjusted gross income in the previous year.
“A large number of Americans transact almost all of their business online, which means that the information they store digitally can be at risk,” said US attorney Jennifer Arbeiter-Williams. “Potential thieves like this defendant demonstrate how quickly and easily personal information can be hacked.
“However, this case also demonstrates how quickly our office and our law enforcement partners have responded,” she continued. “It was just a matter of weeks between the FBI receiving a tip and the day they knocked on the defendant’s door to carry out a search warrant, stopping him in his tracks.”