News: Bad checks scam

Published in the July 1 2010 issue of The Edmonton Sun. News

Bad checks scam

Scammers posing as food inspectors are preying on restaurant owners in Edmonton and throughout the province, according to Alberta Health Services.

In the past few weeks, dozens of eateries have been targeted by fake inspectors who attempt to bully their operators into paying fines, said AHS spokeswoman Shannon Evans.

“We have no indication any money exchanges have taken place,” said Evans.

Edmonton grocer Phong Luu is one of dozens of grocery store and restaurant owners provincewide who weren’t fooled.

Luu has had the same health official inspect his Chinatown grocery store, Kim Fat Market Ltd., for years.

His inspector would always show up unannounced.

That’s why when Luu received a phone call Monday afternoon from someone claiming to be a health inspector — saying he would visit the store the next day and even threatening to fine the store owner if he didn’t agree to the inspection — Luu knew something wasn’t right.

“It alarmed me,” he said.

“I’ve been in this business 10 years, and inspectors, they come when they want to. They don’t let you know and then all of a sudden expect you to pay upfront fines. It’s just alarming.”

AHS officials say food store owners report fake inspectors call, attempt to verify personal and business information, and try to set up an in-person inspection at the store.

“They are trying to arrange a visit and threatening to impose a fine if owners don’t co-operate,” said Dr. Gerry Predy, senior medical officer of health with AHS.

“Our staff don’t impose fines. They don’t ask for money.”

Predy said real public health inspectors do not call to schedule inspections beforehand.

He said he assumes the scammers are trying to get money from the restaurant owners.

Food business owners who receive phone calls or encounter unfamiliar inspectors should contact AHS or phone police, said Predy.

Similar fake inspector scams have recently been reported in other provinces, including Ontario and B.C., but it is unclear if any money has actually been exchanged in Alberta.

When Luu began questioning the caller for credentials, he said the caller quickly turned “aggressive” before hanging up.

For now, the store owner said he’s happy he followed his instinct and called his real health inspector.

“I’m glad that nothing came to fruition,” Luu said.

“But even if he came down, he’d obviously see I have nothing to hide.”

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