Scam Alert

Published 6:49 pm Friday, November 26, 2010

JACKSON – Be aware of a possible scam.

Northampton County health officials are warning restaurant owners to be careful of a scam targeting food service establishments. Officials say restaurateurs have reported receiving calls from people claiming to be health inspectors or other government officials who tell the business owners of a new inspection procedure.

The phony “government official” provides a numeric code and instructs the restaurant operator to provide this confirmation code when prompted during an automated call or give the code to a health inspector who is scheduled to visit the restaurant. The caller then says that the health inspector will visit the food service establishment the next day between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., or a similar time-frame.

Sue Gay, Northampton County Local Health Director said she has learned that other states have been targeted by similar scams. These scams have involved setting up “verified” accounts with a national online auction service. The purpose of the code is to get the restaurant to provide false verification to the online auction service which establishes a bogus online account to be used in other fraud schemes.

Food Service establishments and other business owners need to be aware of this scam and should protect themselves by understanding:

Never provide personal or business information by phone unless you are certain of the person with whom you are speaking.

Environmental health specialists do not contact establishments in advance to schedule a routine inspection.

A new inspection procedure has not been developed and any “government official” who asks you to provide a given code through an automated call system or to an inspector is part of a fraud scheme.

Ask for proper photo identification if you do not recognize any inspector.

According to Gay, there have been no reports of phony inspectors arriving at any establishment targeted by the scam in North Carolina. However, owners and operators should immediately contact local law enforcement if they suspect they are being targeted by a scam.

Questions about the identity of any environmental health specialist authorized to inspect in North Carolina should be directed to the N.C. Division of Environmental Health at (919) 733-2884 or the local health department at 252-534-5841.