The man arrested for allegedly hacking into celebrity phones is a convicted con artist ... who was once busted by the feds for running a scheme to steal people's life insurance money ... TMZ has learned.
According to court records, obtained by TMZ ... Christopher Howard Chaney plead guilty to mail fraud in federal court in Florida back in 1998 ... for stealing money from Prudential life insurance policy holders in a diabolical plan he executed with a friend back in 1997.
Court docs reveal ... Chaney had a pal who worked for Prudential, and that guy would identify Prudential Life Insurance customers who had names similar to Chaney's.
Chaney would then fill out paperwork, posing as his victims ... and took money out of their policies ... thousands of dollars at a time.
Chaney -- who was a teenager when he was involved in the scam -- was convicted ... and sentenced to 48 months probation and ordered to return the money he stole.
Now, Chaney is back in the criminal system -- accused of hacking 50 people, mostly famous people, and leaking VERY private information to the web ... including nude photos of Scarlett Johansson, Vanessa Hudgens and more.
If convicted in the hacking case, Chaney could face 121 years in federal prison.
Alleged Celeb Phone-Hacker
Ex-Con Past Revealed
History of Scam Artistry
10/12/2011 3:40 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
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