Puerto Rico, A Territory in Recession, Falls Prey to a More Than $4 Million Online Scam

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that’s not in the best financial place right now, fell prey to a more than four million dollar online scam.
Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that’s not in the best financial place right now, fell prey to a more than four million dollar online scam.
Photo: Kevin C. Cox (Getty Images)

Authorities in Puerto Rico reported this week that hackers had targeted more than four million dollars in government funds in recent months. The attack unsettled lawmakers on the island, who criticized the vague explanations given by the government at a time when Puerto Rico is in a financial crisis.

According to the Associated Press, the scam began when a hacker got into the computer of a finance worker at Puerto Rico’s Employee Retirement System in December. The hacker pretended to be the female employee associated with the account and proceeded to send emails to various government agencies. The emails stated that there had been a change in the bank accounts used for certain transactions.


Government officials realized that something was wrong when the real finance worker at the Employee Retirement System got in touch with the agencies involved and said that she had not received the payments. Of course, the agency officials told her that they had already sent them. Officials maintain that they reported the incident immediately upon becoming aware of it.

El Nuevo Día, a Puerto Rican newspaper, states that four agencies were affected by the scam. However, it is not yet clear how much money was lost. The Associated Press reports that Puerto Rico’s Industrial Development Company sent $63,000 to the hacker in December and $2.6 million in January. Meanwhile, the territory’s Tourism Company sent $1.5 million in January.

Although the incident is unfortunate given Puerto Rico’s situation — the island is in the midst of a more than a decade long recession and also has deal with the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and other natural disasters there is a small silver lining. Authorities have managed to freeze at least $2.9 million of what was taken from the government in the scam, per the Associated Press.


Additionally, local media reported that although the scam involved the Employee Retirement System, retiree pensions would not be affected.

Days after the incident was reported, Puerto Rican Governor Wanda Vázquez announced that the government had established protocols for its most important agencies to avoid similar situation in the future. Vázquez added that the government had to find funds for the initiative, which it considers a priority.


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It’s not just Puerto Rico, my state’s cybersecurity is pretty horrible (without going into to much detail hopefully). People are lazy. The higher up in the government, the more lazy they are with security. They don’t even want to set up their password recall systems or do anything that seems ‘beneath them’ and want somebody to handle it all for them. Even if that leaves a gaping hole in security. It’s fairly maddening when they also give me a load of a cybersecurity classes that cover information I’m already extremely well-versed in, while they can’t be assed to do the basic security needs their job should require of them.