Farming family warning others after bank accounts emptied in port-out scam

The fraud, which appears to have started with the theft of a SaskTel phone number and email last week, saw Johnson Livestock near Peebles Saskatchewan see the bank account the family uses for farming operations and expenses completely drained.

The family lost hundreds of thousands from its farm operations account

Members of the Johnson family near Peebles, Sask., are cautioning others about the risks of port-out fraud after they had hundreds of thousands stolen from a bank account. They posted about the ordeal online to ensure other people are aware of the scam. (Supplied by Johnson Livestock)

A family of Saskatchewan farmers is sounding the alarm bell after they had hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen from their family farm's bank account, and they say they're not alone.

The fraud, which appears to have started with the theft of a SaskTel phone number and email last week, affected Johnson Livestock near Peebles, Sask. The bank account the family uses for farming operations and expenses was completely drained.

"It's been kind of a blur of bank conversations, police and just a lot of back and forth all around," said Laurie Johnson, who operates the farm with her husband, Andrew.

It appears the family was a victim of a port-out fraud — where a fraudster collects personal information about an individual and then uses that information to open a new account with a new carrier. They then transfer the account over, and proceed to steal the phone's number and whatever information that may have been stored on it.

The Johnsons have been working on the farm for more than two decades, and it will eventually be passed along to their children. After they realized they had been the victim of fraud, the two made a post on the farm's Facebook to alert other people to the alleged crime.

Johnson said after they made the Facebook post, they heard from other farmers in Saskatchewan that experienced similar instances of fraud around the same time.

"They're dealing with huge numbers as well, so it's not just us," she said.

RCMP confirmed Tuesday that alongside the Johnson case, it is investigating large-scale fraud in the communities of Broadview, North Battleford and Moose Jaw, and it is investigating the possibility that all of the cases are linked.

Andrew Johnson said the entire experience has been incredibly draining for the family, as the farm is in the middle of its calving season.

Cattle can be seen on the Johnson Livestock cattle farm in this undated photo. The family is sharing their experience with port-out fraud after the family lost hundreds of thousands of dollars when a family member's phone was compromised. (Supplied/Johnson Livestock)

He said the family is trying to remain hopeful, as investigations and efforts to find the fraudster or fraudsters are underway, but said so far, no one has reassured them the money will be returned.

"I don't actually need full disclosure, I need my money back. As far as I'm concerned, I will let these massive companies fight it out as to who is responsible just as long as my money is back," he said. "I'm not looking for vengeance of anything like that, I just want my account to read what it read last week at this time."

On Monday, Justice Minister Don Morgan reached out to the family looking for information about the fraud and Johnson said based on the conversation he feels the minister is "taking the matter seriously."

In a statement sent to CBC on Tuesday, the Government of Saskatchewan said it "knows that identity theft is a concern to residents" and collaborated with the Government of Canada on legislative reform around the issue.

Greg Jacobs, an external communications manager with SaskTel, said port-out frauds are becoming more common, but they're still "extremely rare" in the province.

He said SaskTel is aware of the situation involving the Johnson family and is currently investigating and will cooperate with any police investigation into the fraud. Jacobs said SaskTel and other members of the industry are working to address the growing issue.

"Porting fraud is something the entire wireless industry in Canada has seen an increase in in recent months and it's something that we're all dealing with," he said.

Jacobs stressed that in order for a person to execute a port-out fraud, they do need access to an individual's personal information. As a result, SaskTel is reminding everyone to be careful about what they share on social media.

"This is a strong reminder that in today's day and age, people need to take precautions when they are dealing with their own personal information," he said.

The Kipling detachment of the RCMP is investigating the fraud and they say the case is ongoing.