An online scam targeted $4 million in retirement funds from at least four Puerto Rico agencies, according to reports on Thursday (Feb. 14).
Authorities have frozen at least $2.9 million, said an anonymous official. It is not known how much was actually taken.
Agencies affected include the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. and the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., according to a statement released by the island government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) froze the funds and will return them, the statement said.
“Pensioners can rest assured that their pensions weren’t, and won’t be, affected,” said Luis Collazo Rodríguez, administrator of the retirement system.
The finance director at the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. said he unknowingly sent $2.6 million to a fraudulent account “after receiving an email about an alleged change to the account,” according to a police complaint released Wednesday.
Since Jan. 23, the Puerto Rican government has been working with federal authorities to find who was responsible for the scam, according to the statement.
While the FBI continues to investigate the scam, the Puerto Rico Justice Department is launching its own probe, Justice Secretary Dennise Longo Quiñones said.
The chairman of the Puerto Rico House’s public safety committee Rep. Félix Lassalle Toro is also investigating, his office said. The goal is to discover what happened so it can be prevented in the future. The government’s computer network is filled with the personal data of residents, and that is a big issue, he said.
“We can’t permit indiscriminate people to gain access to all that information,” Lassalle Toro said.
This incident comes as the island is still recovering — and facing financial scrutiny — from 2017’s Hurricane Maria and a series of earthquakes.
Puerto Rico is also dealing with years of economic strife and bankruptcies. The federal agency in charge of the island’s finances introduced a $35 billion debt restructuring agreement. Puerto Rico recently signed Senate Bill 840, which sets up a public policy on the sharing economy. Officials think that could help the island’s economy as it tries to attract more tourism.