- Days before the 2016 presidential election, two Haverford College students devised a plan to hack into Donald Trump’s tax returns by filling out a fake FAFSA student loan application in his daughter’s name.
- After getting ahold of the documents, the former students planned to send the returns to media outlets around the country and help prevent Trump from being elected.
- The attempt failed and the students were caught after Department of Education monitors were alerted of multiple failed attempts to correctly answer a security question.
- Nearly three years later, both of the former students have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanour counts of computer fraud and could face up to two years in prison.
In the days leading up to the 2016 election, two Haverford College students worried about a possible Trump victory. Leaving nothing to chance, the two put in motion a plan to use a fake FAFSA application under Tiffany Trump’s name to hack into Donald Trump’s tax returns. The students reportedly planned to send those documents to media outlets all across the country, exposing Trump’s returns and potentially influencing voters.
But their attempt failed. And now the 24- and 22-year-old may spend up to two years in prison for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
It was the tail end of 2016 and Donald Trump had made headlines for months over his unconventional and highly controversial refusal to release his tax returns. (As president, Trump still has not released his returns, sighting an ongoing audit, prompting the House Ways and Means Committee to file a lawsuit demanding the documents’ release). That’s when Andrew Harris, a junior at Haverford College and the reported mastermind behind the plan, came up with the idea to fill out a fake FAFSA account under Tiffany Trump’s name.
Trump’s youngest daughter had just graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and was preparing to enter law school at Georgetown University. The FAFSA, the main resource for students applying for financial aid, pulls tax data directly from the Internal Revenue Service to determine the number of student loans any given person might receive.
By posing as Tiffany, Harris thought he could gain access to her father’s returns. All Harris needed was some personal information available on the open internet and the then candidate’s social security number. It just so happened that Donald Trump’s social security and cell phone number had leaked earlier that year. Harris found a copy.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Harris shared the plan with his classmate, Justin Hiemstra. The two students allegedly logged onto Haverford campus computers six days before the 2016 election to fill out the fake FAFSA application. Armed with Trump’s date of birth and social security number, the duo reportedly made it to a final security question but were ultimately stumped. Repeated incorrect answers to the question set off red flags for the Department of Education officials who monitor FAFSA accounts. Several days later, federal investigators from the IRS reportedly arrived at the school and confronted the students.
The former students could face up to two years in prison and fines of $US200,000
Nearly three years after the foiled attempt, Harris has pleaded guilty to two misdemeanour counts of computer fraud, according to Cyber Scoop. Harris’ admission of guilt comes just one month after Hiemstra pleaded guilty to the same charges. Those charges could land the two in jail for up to two years each. In a statement provided to The Verge, the former students’ lawyer, William J. Brennan Jr. downplayed the hacking attempt as a college prank gone wrong.
“This wasn’t Russian hacking, this was two knuckleheads in college,” Brennan said. “[Harris] wishes no ill will towards the president and his family and he’s sorry for any inconveniences he’s caused the Trump family.” In a previous interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, the lawyer compared the two former students’ situation to a scene from the movie “Wayne’s World.”
“This was a “Wayne’s World” scene gone awry,” he said.
The US government, on the other hand, isn’t laughing.
“No matter what you think about the president’s tax returns, clearly this kind of illegal activity cannot be tolerated or condoned,” US attorney William McSwain said in a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Unauthorised or false attempts to obtain any citizen’s IRS filings are a serious violation of privacy rights and a federal crime, and there’s nothing funny about it. Now, this un-funny plot has branded both Harris and his cohort, Justin Hiemstra, with federal criminal convictions that they deserve.”
Harris and Hiemstra are expected to receive their sentences in court on December 16th.
- Read more:
- ‘For the lulz’ – Hackers explain why they took over the NFL’s Twitter account
- US official says foreign election hacking is ‘inevitable’
- Hackers targeted the admissions and enrollment departments at 62 universities and created thousands of fake student accounts
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