Toronto councillor sounds alarm on rise in small business break-ins across the city

A Toronto city councillor is sounding the alarm over a rise in break and enter thefts targeting local businesses across the city, saying more needs to be done to prevent these crimes from occurring.

Coun. Mike Colle, who represents Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence, hosted a summit Friday in response to receiving a record number of reports of small business break-ins within his ward.

“We have small, family-run businesses that are being financially devastated by these break ins,” Colle told CBC Toronto Friday. 

“They’re not only breaking into their business and sometimes taking products, they’re taking their point-of-sale terminals… and they’re accessing their accounts when they steal the terminals.”

Colle said it’s not small amounts of money: “In some cases, it’s been up to $50,000 taken out of accounts of small business [owners].”

Toronto police saw a 19 per cent increase in break and enters in small businesses from 2022 to 2023, with a total of 300 point-of-sale terminal thefts reported last year. 

“We’re working diligently on this,” Acting Staff Supt. Shannon Dawson told reporters ahead of the summit, adding that it is a widespread issue across the city.

Break-ins seen as ‘crime of opportunity’: police

Dawson said the increase is likely the result of burglaries being seen as “crimes of opportunity.” She said one people are successful, they tend to keep doing it.

She said police are helping businesses by putting preventative measures in place.

“The goal for us at the Toronto Police Service is to be able to provide the small businesses with crime prevention techniques and opportunities,” Dawson said.

“It is very preventable by ensuring that these terminals are used properly, that passcodes are put on them and that they’re secured can greatly decrease the ability for these thefts to be successful.”

Dawson said the majority of break-ins occur overnight, when businesses are closed.

Mayor Olivia Chow stands in city hall chambers.
Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow urged business owners to collaborate with others to help put a stop to break-ins. (Ken Townsend/CBC)

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said more business owners should be aware of preventing point-of-sale terminal thefts, urging them to work with BIAs and other businesses in the community, along with the city and police, to prevent crime.

“Small businesses are the heart of our neighbourhood, the heart of our economy [and] Toronto,” Chow said Friday at the summit.

Scott Tabachnick, spokesperson for credit and debit-processing firm Moneris, said there have been improvements aimed at safeguarding machines from thefts.

“For our devices, you cannot proceed with your initialization until you have changed the password,” Tabachnick said, adding that this is not the case for older debit and credit-processing device models.

Dan Ferracuti, owner of Safari Bar and Grill in North York, said his restaurant has been broken into multiple times over the past few years. He said thieves targeted its point-of-sale terminals so they could process refunds from the business’ bank account onto prepaid debit and credit cards.

“Break and enters shouldn’t be part of our operating costs,” Ferracuti said. 

“They’re able to do this, and unless you’re able to stop it, the money comes out of your account, right onto a prepaid credit card and it happens very, very quickly. I’m actually watching it happening in real time, every minute: $1,000, $1,200, $1,500. And there’s just no stopping it.”

A clover payment device is held at a restaurant.
Dan Ferracuti, owner of Safari Bar and Grill in North York, said his restaurant was broken into multiple times over the past few years with thieves targeting the business’ point-of-sales machines. (Michelle Song/CBC)

Thefts part of ‘cost of doing business,’ says owner

Ferracuti said the first time the bar and grill was broken into was nearly two years ago on Canada Day.

Several people broke in to steal the point-of-sale machine and attempted to process roughly $47,000 out of the accounts, before the restaurant was able to freeze its bank account to block the transactions.

“Whatever was in the account would have been completely drained,” he said.

“Luckily, we were able to stop the transaction basically by closing the bank account. [Because] it happened on the eve of Canada Day, we actually had an extra day, which saved our bacon big time.”

He said in addition to the damage caused by the break-in, the restaurant has had laptops and tablets stolen as well.

“It’s unfortunately become a cost of doing business, but it really shouldn’t be.”

Ferracuti said another break-in took place less than a year ago, but the business was able to stop the thieves from accessing the payment machine after changing the default code that was initially set up on it.

“Because this had already happened to us prior, we had all the codes changed so they couldn’t process any refunds this time but we were [still] out for the expense of all the machines and all the damage that was done.”

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