Fake food inspector attempts scam in Howard

Attempts to glean sensitive information, create bogus auction sites, reported nationally

November 01, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

A person posing as a food inspector unsuccessfully tried to get a Howard County restaurant operator release sensitive information over the weekend, the latest instance in a series of similar incidents around the country in recent months, county health officials said.

Saturday, the restaurant operator got a call from someone posing as a county health inspector who said the Health Department wanted to schedule an emergency food inspection at a specific date and time. The restaurateur was asked for detailed personal and business information, and when she questioned that, was given a telephone number to call to get a special code number and was then told to call back.

The fraud is complicated because no one comes to a business in person, but the scheme appears aimed at getting the food business operator to make a confirmation phone call that would allow others to create a false identity and set up an auction site on the Internet to sell bogus items. The scammers might also attempt to extort money, officials warned.

"The owner was very smart in the way she handled it," said Howard County Health Department spokeswoman Lisa de Hernandez, who did not reveal the name of the restaurant involved. "She was adamant about getting identification from the caller," and reported the incident to health officials.

Several similar calls to food service businesses have been reported since July in San Diego, Illinois and Norristown, Pa., officials said.

De Hernandez said the Health Department does not call restaurants to schedule inspections, and that all legitimate inspectors carry state-issued picture identification. Further, the names of all county health inspectors are listed on the department website. Owners and operators are warned not to divulge detailed private information over the phone.

Anyone with questions can call the Howard Health Department at 410-313-1772 or the county's Office of Consumer Affairs at 410-313-6420.


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