Sun | Sep 27, 2020

Puerto Rico online scam targeted more than $4M amid crisis

Published:Thursday | February 13, 2020 | 2:32 PM
In this July 29, 2015 file photo, the Puerto Rican flag flies in front of Puerto Rico's Capitol as in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — An online scam that targeted Puerto Rican agencies attempted to steal more than $4 million, police said Thursday, deepening concerns about the management of local government finances during an economic crisis.

Authorities have frozen at least $2.9 million, said an official who was not authorised to comment on the case and requested anonymity.

The government has not said how much money was seized by the hacker.

The scam began when someone hacked into the computer of a finance worker at the island’s Employee Retirement System in December, said José Ayala, director of the fraud unit within the bank robbery division.

The hacker then posed as the female employee and sent emails to various government agencies alleging a change in bank accounts, he told The Associated Press.

Two agencies fell victim to the scam in recent months: Puerto Rico’s Industrial Development Company sent $63,000 in December and more than $2.6 million in January, while the island’s Tourism Company sent $1.5 million in January to fraudulent accounts on the US mainland, he said.

Puerto Rico government officials realised what had happened when the finance worker at the Employee Retirement System called the agencies and said she had not received any payments and officials responded they had already sent them.

“That’s when they call us and all hell breaks loose,” Ayala said.

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