Man pleads guilty to PA college student email hacking: FBI

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A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty after federal officials said he hacked emails from Philadelphia-area college students and employees in a failed tax filing fraud attempt.

A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty after federal officials said he hacked emails from Philadelphia-area college students and employees in a failed tax filing fraud attempt.

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A 39-year-old man managed to hack the emails of students and staff at two Philadelphia-area colleges — and obtain their personal identifying information — but he didn’t make a penny from his failed tax fraud attempt, authorities say.

Timothy Spillane, of Chester Springs in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to “accessing a protected computer network without authorization” in the incident, according to a Jan. 24 press release from the US Attorney’s Office.

Authorities say Spillane hacked into the emails of about 25 college students and staff before obtaining identifying information, including W-2 tax forms and the students’ financial information.

A defense attorney representing Spillane did not immediately respond to a request for explanation 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 to setting up emails, prepaid phones and bank accounts on victims’ behalf so he could get the tax refund.

But authorities say Spillane’s plan was thwarted because he couldn’t accurately guess the victims’ adjusted gross income for the previous year.

“A significant number of Americans conduct almost all of their business online, which means the information they store digitally can be vulnerable,” said US Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams. “Would-be thieves like this defendant show how quickly and easily personal information can be compromised.

“However, this case also shows how quickly our office and law enforcement partners will respond,” she continued. “It was only a matter of weeks between the FBI’s tip and the day they knocked on the defendant’s door to execute a search warrant and stop him.”

Kaitlyn Alanis is a Kansas-based McClatchy National Real-Time Reporter. She is a graduate of Agricultural Communications and Journalism from Kansas State University.

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