Cattle producers Andrew and Laurie Johnson are warning others to secure their personal information after unknown fraudsters gained access to a cellphone and hacked into their farm operating accounts.
The Bank of Montreal has said it will cover the losses, which Laurie said total hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the family has been anxiously sorting out the situation.
The Peebles, Sask., couple farms with Andrew’s parents and are in the middle of calving and preparing for their upcoming bull sale.
On the morning of Jan. 17, Andrew’s mother woke to find her cellphone did not work. The family contacted SaskTel and discovered the number had somehow been switched to Telus. The practice of changing carriers is called porting.
“In order to port out a phone, all you need is a name, a phone number and one piece of identification, whether it’s a birth date, a billing address, health card,” said Andrew.
He said anyone who runs a business publishes some of that information in various places, and social media accounts can provide the rest.
Once a hacker has ported a phone, the hacker can gain control of email. And, if that email has a phone number verification attached to it, resetting passwords is easy.
Laurie Johnson said by later the first day the phone number had been returned to SaskTel, but any sense of relief disappeared the following Monday morning.
“All the damage was done, but we didn’t realize it at that point until our bank contacted us on Monday morning with what had happened,” she said.
“It was just initial panic … and then chaos from then on out.”
The Johnsons reported the matter to the RCMP, but it was a week before they were called to file an official report.
Laurie said they haven’t heard any details of the investigation or if anyone is under suspicion.
One thing is clear: this has happened to others. Many posted their stories to the Johnson Livestock Facebook page.
“The messages that are rolling in have just been unbelievable,” Laurie said.
She said it is much more common than she expected and people aren’t sure how to protect themselves.
“That’s why we’ve been putting ourselves out there,” she said.
They removed email from their phones, changed all their passwords and increased security measures on sites.
“Our other recommendation would be to talk to your bank,” Laurie said. “In our case, we are, until I guess I don’t know how long, going back to old-fashioned banking. It’s going to be as old-fashioned as it gets and that is how we are going to feel secure.”
She said they did wonder why the bank didn’t notify them sooner but at the same time noted their operation is big and large transactions do take place from those accounts.
Andrew is quick to point out the family does not blame SaskTel because they haveheard from victims who used all types of providers.
“It’s a cellular issue,” he said.
Laurie said they were unlucky and this really could happen to anyone. They are looking forward to getting back to the business of farming.
“My husband’s tip is, the way this could have been avoided is if we had bought more cows. We wouldn’t have had money for them to take,” she said with a laugh.