June 27, 2010
In a scam sweeping the U.S. and Canada, con artists posing as health inspectors are targeting restaurants, apparently as part of an identity theft scheme.

Investigators say the scam involves a series of phone calls. The first caller tells the restaurant that it will receive an automated call providing a numeric confirmation code. A second caller, claiming to be a health inspector, requests the code and seeks to set up an in-person restaurant inspection. The caller threatens fines if the restaurant doesn't cooperate.

Officials in Stanislous County, Calif., issued an alert last week stating, This phony inspector scheme is part of a larger fraud involving setting up verified accounts with a national online auction service. The fraudster then uses the accounts in other schemes.

Washington State Department of Health officials said theyve heard from local health authorities that businesses in Snohomish, Pierce and King counties have recently received calls.

Local reports also suggest that the callers may have requested personal information, such as cell phone numbers. So far, local authorities arent aware of any restaurants that bit at the ploy.

The Washington State Attorney Generals Office said anyone who receives a call like this should refuse to participate. Public health inspectors carry official photo identification and do not announce their visits.

Business owners who believe they may have been victims of this scam should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.