In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in the U.S., federal prosecutors have arrested a Seattle man for allegedly using a...

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In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in the U.S., federal prosecutors have arrested a Seattle man for allegedly using a popular file-sharing program to steal people’s tax returns, student financial aid forms and other sensitive data from their computer hard drives.

According to a federal indictment, Gregory Kopiloff used Limewire — a program that is widely used to swap music, videos and other digital content — to obtain people’s personal information.

Kopiloff then allegedly used the information to fraudulently open credit and bank accounts in his victims’ names, according to the indictment, and in turn purchased thousands of dollars of merchandise from online merchants and conventional retailers.

Kopiloff then resold the merchandise “for 50 cents on the dollar,” according to the indictment.

Since the rise of Napster in the 1990s, millions of computer users have used file-sharing programs such as Limewire, Kazaa and BearShare to swap music, video, photos other digital content.

These so-called peer-to-peer computing networks initially came under fire because they facilitated the illegal distribution of copyrighted music without the consent of the content owners.

But security experts have long warned that such programs could also enable criminals to access sensitive personal and corporate information stored on computer hard drives.

Kopiloff has been charged with mail fraud, accessing a protected computer without authorization to further fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. He was arrested Wednesday.

Kopiloff is due to make his initial appearance at U.S. District Court in Seattle this afternoon. The U.S. attorney’s office, Secret Service and postal inspectors are holding a news conference this afternoon at the federal courthouse in Seattle to discuss the indictment.

David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or dbowermaster@seattletimes.com