A man has been sentenced to prison for 15 months for using personal data gathered from neighbours’ Facebook and Friends Reunited postings to hack their bank accounts and steal more than £35,000.

Iain Wood, who owns a carpet-fitting business, befriended people who lived in his block of flats in Newcastle on social networking sites such as Facebook, and used the sites to find out as much personal information about them as possible.

With this data, Wood was able to access victims’ bank accounts and ordered replacement bank cards to be delivered to his address. He then used these to withdraw more than £35,000 between June 2008 and June 2010, which he spent on gambling.

When he was unable to access bank accounts, Wood used the personal information to provide requested security information, such as mother’s maiden name, when prompted.

The scam ended when Wood decided to directly transfer money out of a neighbour’s account into his own in November 2009. The victim was alerted to the fraud when he was contacted by his bank over the withdrawal of £1,500.

Wood was sent to prison for up to 15 months for the offences.

According to the Sunday Sun, Judge Guy Whitburn, at Newcastle Crown Court, said during sentencing: “This is the first time I’ve come across a sophisticated fraud such as this. It was very well planned, complex and clever.

“He was using other people’s identities and there was a considerable breach of trust in assuming his neighbours’ identities.”

Wood admitted hacking into bank accounts and intercepting other people’s post when interviewed by police.

The authorities also found numerous bank account PIN numbers, someone else’s passport and bills, many of which he had stolen from post boxes of the flat’s other residents, when they searched his flat.

Prosecuting lawyer Neil Pallister said: “He said he had figured out how to access online bank accounts.

“He would go on and say he couldn’t remember the password and would be asked security questions about dates of birth and mother’s maiden names and he was able to give correct details in some cases.

“He said he would be on the computer 18 hours a day to find out information about people on websites such as Facebook and Friends Reunited.

“He would make friends with people on Facebook, and having got their user names he would try it on the bank websites, on the basis people use the same passwords.

“If that did not work he would fill in the security information, which he had got from Facebook and Friends Reunited.”

Most of the accounts he targeted were dormant, but Wood was also able to exploit victims’ overdraft facilities before they realised.