Seattle indictment highlights risks of online file sharing

Seattle indictment highlights risks of online file sharing »Play Video
SEATTLE (AP) - A Seattle man has been arrested in what the Justice Department described as its first case against someone accused of using file-sharing computer programs to commit identity theft.

Gregory Thomas Kopiloff used Limewire, Soulseek and other "peer-to-peer" file-sharing programs to troll other computers for financial information, which he used to open credit cards for an online shopping spree, according to a four-count indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

Kopiloff, arrested Wednesday, bought more than $73,000 worth of goods online, then resold those items at steep discounts and kept the proceeds, the indictment said.

Kopiloff is charged with mail fraud, accessing a protected computer, and two counts of aggravated identity theft. Authorities allege he victimized at least 83 people.

Kopiloff was scheduled to make his initial court appearance Thursday afternoon. It was not immediately known if he had obtained a lawyer.

Though people have been prosecuted for using peer-to-peer, or "P2P," networks to illegally share or obtain copyrighted music, movies and software, the Justice Department called this the first for what experts describe as an equally - if not more - troubling matter.

Each day, computer users inadvertently share hundreds of thousands of sensitive files through such programs, from banking statements and medical records to tax returns and legal documents, according to Robert Boback, chief executive of Tiversa Inc., a Pennsylvania firm that monitors file-sharing. Typically it occurs when a user downloads file-sharing software and accidentally allows it to share all files on a computer, rather than just the music files, for example.

"If you are running file-sharing software, you are giving criminals the keys to your computer," said assistant U.S. attorney Kathryn Warma. "Criminals are getting access to incredibly valuable information."

Boback, who was scheduled to speak at a U.S. attorney's office news conference on Kopiloff's case Thursday, testified before a congressional committee on the issue in July. He noted that among the files his company uncovered was a confidential document addressed to Rep. Henry Waxman, the committee's chairman, concerning a pharmaceutical company's drug trials.

According to the indictment, Kopiloff began using Limewire and Soulseek - free file-sharing programs available on the Internet - about 2½ years ago to search for people who had inadvertently allowed access to their sensitive files. He searched their computers for federal income tax returns, student financial aid applications and credit reports, it said.

Kopiloff also obtained some sensitive information the old-fashioned way, from associates who would steal mail or go "Dumpster diving" for discarded financial records, the indictment said, adding that he would open credit accounts and then go shopping online, having items such as an iPod, earphones and a hard drive shipped to a UPS store, hotels or post office boxes in Western Washington.

For More Information:

Read the indictment