Word of Mouth

Phony inspection scam out to shake down Colorado restaurants

Bad enough when the real health inspector drops by a restaurant -- but a phony inspector? That's enough to get your temperature rising far above what's considered safe for the storage of food.

Over the weekend, the Colorado Department of Public Safety sent word of a phony inspector scam:

Here's the release

The Colorado Department of Public Safety's Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers today warned consumers and business owners to beware of phone calls from persons posing as health inspectors who may attempt to extort money from Colorado food service operators, including restaurants.

So far 20 such reports have been received at CIAC, which is receiving one to two new reports daily.

CIAC says similar schemes are being reported from other states. Some out-of-state incidents involve apparent extortion attempts.

According to complaints received from food service businesses in Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas and Larimer counties, individuals are calling food service businesses leaving phony Colorado and California telephone numbers and asking to set up meetings to inspect the businesses.

During the calls, the callers have reportedly provided bogus call-back numbers with 760, 303 and 970 area codes. Although the aim of the calls to Colorado businesses is unclear, the scheme resembles one reported in Orange County, Calif. In some of the California cases, the callers successfully extorted money from the businesses.

According to the CIAC, some call recipients are asked to provide their own cell phone number. CIAC is concerned that leaving a call-back number with a caller intent on fraud could open a restaurant owner or manager open to a variety of security risks.

Most restaurant inspections in Colorado are conducted by local health departments. Such inspections are not announced, and they are conducted twice each year. Inspectors do not call restaurants announcing their planned inspections, according to the Tri County Health Department. The only exceptions are new restaurants or ones in which ownership has changed.

Restaurant owners who receive calls should report them to local law enforcements, health departments or to CIAC at 877-509-2422.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun