Fake Food Inspectors Reappear in Lee, Johnson Counties
DES MOINES, IA (September 8, 2017) – Several restaurants operators have reported being contacted by individuals claiming to be food inspectors who want to charge a processing fee for an upcoming inspections. Local health departments in Lee and Johnson County have been contacted by restaurant owners receiving calls from fake food inspectors.
Unfortunately, at least one owner provided his credit card information to the fake inspector, which resulted in the owner’s account being hacked,” Lee County Environmental Health Program Director Rosa Haukedahl said. The latest scam appears to involve an individual posing as a food inspector who informs restaurant owners that he will be conducting a routine inspection but a processing fee of $5 needs to be paid immediately by credit card of the restaurant’s license could be at stake.
“The fake inspectors appear to be targeting ethnic restaurants in Lee County,” Haukedahl added.
At least one restaurant operator in Johnson County also has been contacted by a fake food inspector. In this particular instance, the fake inspector told the operator that a processing fee is now being charged for all restaurant inspections, a portion of which must be paid by credit card before the inspection begins. “This restaurant owner, too, provided the caller with credit card information,” said Tricia Kitzmann, deputy director of the Johnson County Public Health Department.
Steven Mandernach, chief of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals’ (DIA) Food & Consumer Safety Bureau, warned Iowa restaurant owners and operators to be wary of anyone who claims to be a food inspector and requests personal information. “Legitimate food inspectors will never ask for credit card information or other personal information,” Mandernach said.
The phony food inspector scam first appeared in Iowa several years ago when individuals posing as health department officials would bully restaurant owners and staff in attempts to obtain personal information, including cell phone numbers, social security numbers, and – in several instances – cash. “The fake inspectors would solicit cash to ‘make violations disappear’”, Mandernach explained.
“Food safety inspectors at both the state and local level are dedicated employees who assist owners in the operation of their food establishments,” Mandernach continued. “The role of a food inspector is as much educational as it is regulatory.”
Restaurant owners and operators are urged to contact their local health department of DIA’s Food & Consumer Safety Bureau for verification of a person’s identify if they have any doubts about an inspector. Food establishment operators who are contacted by anyone claiming to be a food inspectors who asks for personal information or solicits cash should immediately contact their local law enforcement.