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Feds accuse bank insider of massive data heist

Thumb drive skirts subprime security

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A financial analyst for Countrywide Home Financial, one of the world's biggest and most troubled mortgage lenders, has been arrested and charged with stealing personal information concerning a breathtaking number of the company's customers.

Rene Rebollo, 36, of Pasadena, California, downloaded 20,000 customer profiles including names and social security numbers just about every week for about two years, according to documents filed in federal court in Los Angeles. He would then sell the purloined information for about $500 per 20,000 profiles to various buyers. He netted as much as $70,000 through the scheme, prosecutors alleged.

Although Countrywide had technology in place to disable flash drives on employee computers, Rebollo was able to circumvent the safeguard by making use of a PC that didn't have it installed. Countrywide is one of the biggest providers of subprime mortgages, which offered people with bad credit housing loans. In many cases, the loans came with low introductory interest rates that would eventually reset to much higher rates. Attorneys general from Illinois and California have sued the lender for practices that were allegedly unfair and deceptive.

Earlier this year, Countrywide was acquired by Bank of America. Subprime loans are one of the key causes of the current mortgage debacle rocking the US economy.

Rebollo was able to obtain specific types of Countrywide customer data thanks to his access to many of the company's different databases. He typically accessed the information on Sunday evenings from his workplace. He downloaded the information onto thumb drives. He would then physically sell the drive to people claiming to be data thieves or would email the data, usually in Excel spreadsheets, from a computer at a Kinko's shop.

He has been charged with exceeding authorized access to the computer of a financial institution and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He was arrested Friday and released on an $85,000 bond. Rebollo's attorney didn't return a message seeking comment for this story.

A second person, 25-year-old Wahid Siddiqi of Thousand Oaks, California, was also arrested in the case and accused of purchasing some of the Countrywide data. Siddiqi is charged with fraud and faces 15 years. Siddiqi is scheduled to appear in court on Monday afternoon, California time. ®

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