Scammers Target Michigan Restaurants

By: Rachel Thomas Email
By: Rachel Thomas Email

Scam artists posing as health inspectors are targetting small restaurants in the Lansing area.

"I just got a call from someone who said they were from the health department. He said he was coming and wanted to schedule a time to do an inspection of my kitchen," said El Burrito's owner Ofilia Diaz.

But El Burrito owner Ofilia Diaz knew something was up when he wouldn't give her a telephone number. She then contacted the Ingham County Health Department.

"We've had four calls that sounded unusual asking for financial information," said Dean Sienko, M.D., of the Ingham County Health Department.

The scammers are asking for banking information, credit cards and social security numbers. Then they threaten fines if restaurants don't comply. Health officials suspect this is an identity theft operation.

County health officials are not sure why the scammers have targetted Mexican and Asian restaurants in Lansing. State officials say the scam is larger than Ingham County and there is no rhyme or reason to who scammers are trying to fool.

"So far we had a dozen calls from Mid-Michigan to northern Michigan," said Jennifer Holton, the public information officer for the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

State officials are still unsure how many restaurants have fallen for the scam. Something owners say is easy to do if they don't know their inspector.

"If he (the county health inspector) hadn't just been here. I would have probably thought he (the scammer) was the inspector," said Diaz.

State officials still investigating these scams say any intimidation to restaurant owners is one too many. The Michigan Department of Agriculture advises restaurant owners to always ask for identification of anyone claiming to be a food inspector. Local and state inspectors would never ask for sensitive information and usually show up unannounced.

Anyone with information about this scam is asked to contact the Michigan Department of Agriculture at (800) 292-3939.

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  • by Kimberly Location: Fort Gratiot on Jan 6, 2011 at 02:56 PM
    I hope they do catch these guys, and more, I hope every restaurant person has recognized the scam. I think the phishers are looking at Mexicans and Asians as "easy targets" for stereotypical reasons, assuming language and cultural barriers. Michigan's food licensing procedure involves some education, I just hope it's enough to arm restaurant owners with protections against these kinds of scams. It's tough enough to make it these days, they don't need to be driven out of business by con artists.
  • by Jen Location: Williamston on Jan 6, 2011 at 04:05 AM
    Criminals just get more and more crafty and creative, and it somehow seems to get easier and easier for them in our more digital, computer-based world. I hope they can figure out who these guys are soon and keep them from really harming someone. It's now pretty sad when you're thinking you'd better be payin' cash for you burrito or lo mein because some jerk criminal is going to try to fool the restaurant into giving out your credit card info thinking it's to protect themselves. Sad, sad world this is sometimes, for sure.
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