The liquidation sales at Nordstrom stores across Canada will begin Tuesday.
Ontario: yours to defraud?
In recent years, CBC Toronto has reported on a slew of alleged frauds that have upended the lives of countless victims in Ontario. The stories have covered everything from Ponzi schemes, to romance scams and fraudsters selling people’s houses out from under them.
These seemingly surging scams begged questions about how Ontario’s enforcement systems are handling fraud cases and whether they’re helping victims.
CBC Toronto went looking for answers for this investigative series, The Cost of Fraud, and discovered an overloaded justice system that is reluctant to prosecute fraud, failing to deter fraudsters and putting the onus on victims to recover their own losses if offenders refuse to pay them back as ordered.
Over the last decade, Ontario has seen fraud reports skyrocket, with just a sliver of annual reports leading to criminal charges, and nearly half of those already scant charges dropped each year. And it’s not just happening in this province — a similar drop off after the initial report can be seen in Canada-wide statistics.
“Ideally, criminality should be investigated and prosecuted and we’re simply not doing that in Canada these days with respect to the great majority of fraud,” said Peter German, president of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and former deputy commissioner of the RCMP.
“There are many $1,000,000 plus frauds that are simply not being investigated because of the resource issues.”
German, along with other police, legal and academic experts interviewed for this series, attributed issues with fraud enforcement to the nature of the resource-heavy investigations and prosecutions, a lack of specialized expertise, and prioritizing violent crime given limited capacity within a justice system facing significant backlogs.
“There’s a lack of political and institutional will to deal with financial crimes in a systematic and sustained way,” said Vanessa Iafolla, a fraud victim consultant and financial crime professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“If it bleeds it leads,” she said, noting that with fraud, “people only bleed money.”
Last year Canadians reported losing about $416 million to fraud, a 55 per cent jump from the previous record-high of nearly $269 million across the country in 2021, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. More than half of the losses in 2022 came from Ontario.
Those figures are especially stark considering police estimate only five to 10 per cent of frauds are ever reported.
“The statistics are pretty alarming,” said Dorian Dwyer, a retired Ontario Provincial Police fraud detective. “It’s one of the most underreported crimes, but it’s also one of the most voluminous criminal offences occurring, and it’s forever increasing.”
Annual fraud reports to police in Ontario are on the rise according to data from Statistics Canada. There were 31,407 cases reported to police in 2010. By 2021, that number had increased by 20,000 to 51,429.
For the last decade, the number of investigations completed, or reports “cleared” by police remained steady, until 2020 when the number of cases cleared dropped.
In 2021, the number of fraud reports cleared by police only accounted for 13 per cent of the total fraud reports received that year. However, the cleared reports also include reports from previous years, so it’s likely clearance is even lower.
“It’s a capacity issue,” said Dwyer. “Let’s face it, homicides, sexual assaults, bank robberies will always be that 911 event that’s driving police resources.”
Still, Dwyer says the impact of fraud can be devastating.
“You can be literally destroying a person’s life with what the courts may see as a minor fraud offence.”
For Frank Herman and his wife — both in their 80s — the consequences of falling for a phone scam involving a fake RCMP officer could include losing their Toronto home.
“This destroyed my trust in anything and everything,” said Herman. “They knew exactly what they were doing, except I had no idea what they were doing — I thought I was helping the law.”
In reality, Herman says fraudsters hacked into the couple’s online banking account and transferred the $150,000 maximum from their line of credit to their TD Bank chequing account. To the Hermans, the deposit made it look like the RCMP had transferred funds to their account so they could wire it to the U.K. as part of a police operation.
The couple reported the scam to police, but since a review of their computer didn’t turn up any evidence on the fraudsters, the Hermans say an investigator told them there was nothing they could do.
When police are able to clear a report by laying charges in Ontario, the case is then passed to the Crown for prosecution. The number of annual decisions reached in those fraud cases has plummeted by 94 per cent — from roughly 7,419 decisions in the 2010-2011 fiscal year to just 2,688 in 2020-2011.
Even with a declining number of decisions reached each year, nearly half of fraud cases in Ontario for most of the last decade have ended with charges being stayed or withdrawn. Except in 2020-2021, when fraud cases resulting in charges being stayed or withdrawn surpassed the number of fraud cases resulting in guilty decisions.
CBC Toronto asked Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General why Crown lawyers decide to stay or withdraw roughly half of fraud charges each year.
In a statement, a spokesperson told CBC Toronto that the Crown screens every charge to determine whether there’s a reasonable prospect of conviction and whether the prosecution is in the public interest.
German, of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform, argues dropped fraud charge stats like those lead police and prosecutors to question the point of taking on complex fraud cases in the first place.
“The frustration factor is, ‘Well, why do we bother if 50 per cent or so are not going to make it through the system?’ ” he said.
“And even those that do make it through the system, is the result really of significance from a deterrence perspective?”
Just 32 per cent of those convicted of fraud in Ontario in the last decade were sentenced to jail time. Of those who did get jail or prison time, 51 per cent were sentenced to one month or less. Only two per cent of fraud offenders were sentenced to two or more years in prison.
“Once you get down the crime funnel, essentially at the end of the day, there’s not a lot of accountability for people who engage in these kinds of activities,” said Iafolla.
That can be a tough pill to swallow for the few fraud victims whose cases make it that far — and who many experts say are treated differently by society than victims of other crimes.
“There is an absolute lack of empathy for victims,” said Iafolla. “I honestly believe that there is a scam that at the right moment, anybody in their life could fall for.”
Herman never thought it could happen to him.
The senior says he’s ignored other scam calls in the past, but in this case the fraudster knew details about the couple they assumed only the RCMP could know.
Now, TD Bank is threatening to foreclose on their condo if they don’t pay off the home equity line of credit, which is still collecting interest.
In a statement, a TD spokesperson said “it’s concerning” when a customer falls victim to a scam, and that the bank is sorry to hear about the couple’s circumstances.
“While our review confirmed that protection processes and policies were followed, we understand how distressing this situation must be,” said Samantha Grant.
“What they put me through at my age, I don’t wish it on my worst enemy,” said Herman. “We don’t have that kind of money.”
Herman says the police did offer him some advice.
“The officer told us to hire a good lawyer.”
TOMORROW: In part two of The Cost of Fraud, CBC Toronto investigates how victims often have to spend more money to try and recover funds lost to fraudsters even when the court orders offenders to pay.
Nordstrom is expected to begin liquidating its stores across Canada today.
The start of the department store chain’s closing sale comes a day after the U.S. retailer’s Canadian branch got permission from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to start selling off merchandise.
Nordstrom’s liquidation efforts are being led by Hilco Merchant Retail Solutions ULC and Gordon Brothers Canada and are expected to be complete by late June.
Furniture, fixtures and equipment will be liquidated alongside most of Nordstrom’s merchandise, but goods from third parties aren’t part of the sale because they were removed from stores over the weekend.
Nordstrom required court approval to liquidate because it is winding down its Canadian operations under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, which helps insolvent businesses restructure or end operations in an orderly fashion.
As part of the wind down, Nordstrom will close its six Canadian department store locations and seven Nordstrom Rack shops, which sell designer goods at discount prices.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.
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The upscale department store chain has a store at the Rideau Centre mall as well as a Nordstrom Rack location at the Ottawa Train Yards shopping centre
The liquidation sales at Nordstrom stores across Canada will begin Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Nordstrom confirmed the impending sales period Monday in an email to The Canadian Press, just after the Ontario Superior Court of Justice gave the U.S. retailer’s Canadian branch permission to start selling off its merchandise.
The upscale department store chain that primarily sells designer apparel, shoes and accessories has six Canadian stores and seven discount Nordstrom Rack locations, including its Rideau Centre location and a Nordstrom Rack at the Ottawa Train Yards shopping centre, which sells merchandise at discounted prices.
When Nordstrom announced the move in early March, it said it expected the Canadian stores to close by late June and 2,500 workers to lose their jobs.
The company initiated the exit from the market because chief executive Erik Nordstrom said, “despite our best efforts, we do not see a realistic path to profitability for the Canadian business.”
Nordstrom opened its first Canadian store in Calgary in 2014, followed by the Ottawa store at the Rideau Centre, which occupied the second and third levels of a former Sears location.
The Rideau Centre store has an alterations and tailoring shop and an energy drinks bar. Merchandise ranges from brand name to designer apparel, housewares, furnishings and beauty products, including brands such as Geox shoes, Gucci, Adidas and Adidas by Stella McCartney.
Later on came Nordstrom Rack, which made its Canadian debut in 2018 at Vaughan Mills, a mall north of Toronto. At the time, Nordstrom said as many as 15 more Rack locations could follow.
Nordstrom promised each Rack store would deliver savings of up to 70 per cent on apparel, accessories, home, beauty and travel items from 38 of the top 50 brands sold in its Canadian department stores.
Nordstrom had trouble with profitability because of its selection of products and the COVID-19 pandemic, said Tamara Szames, executive director and industry adviser of Canadian retail at the NPD Group research firm, a day after Nordstrom announced its exit.
“You would hear a lot of Canadian saying that the assortment wasn’t the same in Canada that it was in the U.S.,” she said.
She noticed Nordstrom started to shift its product mix away from some luxury brands around 2018 and saw it as a sign that the retailer was struggling to maintain its original vision and integrity.
The pandemic made matters worse because many stores were forced to temporarily close their doors to quell the virus and shoppers were less likely to need some of the items Nordstrom sells like dressy apparel because events had been cancelled.
Despite stores reopening and many sectors rebounding, Szames said the apparel business is the only industry NPD Group tracks that has yet to recover from the health crisis.
“The consumer has really been holding back in terms of spendâ¦within that industry.”
At a hearing at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, lawyer Jeremy Dacks, who represented Nordstrom, said the company has “worked hard to achieve a consensual path forward” with landlords, suppliers and a court-appointed monitor to find an orderly way to wind down the business.
The monitor, Alvarez & Marsal Canada, suggested five potential third-party liquidators and Nordstrom was approached by another five. The company decided to go with a joint venture comprised of Hilco Merchant Retail Solutions ULC and Gordon Brothers Canada, which were involved in the liquidation of Target, Sears and Forever 21 in Canada, Dacks said.
They will oversee the sale of merchandise, furniture, fixtures and equipment, but not goods from third parties, which removed products this past weekend, Dacks said. He added that all sales will be final and no returns will be allowed.
Lawyers for Nordstrom landlords Cadillac Fairview, Ivanhoe Cambridge, Oxford Properties Ltd. and First Capital Realty testified Monday that they were pleased with how “smoothly” and “organized” the process has gone so far.
In approving Dacks’ liquidation request, Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz agreed, saying Nordstrom is facing a “difficult time, but this process is unfolding in a very cooperative manner.”
Nordstrom required court approval to begin the liquidation because it is winding down its Canadian operations under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, which helps insolvent businesses restructure or end operations in an orderly fashion.
With files from Joanne Laucius
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