Cape Girardeau restaurants getting calls from person posing as food inspector

Friday, November 12, 2010

Someone posing as a public health official is calling local restaurants.

Amy Morris, environmental public health specialist with the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center, said they've received reports from area restaurants of someone calling posing to be a public health official investigating tainted food products.

O'Charley's in Cape Girardeau is one local restaurant that scam artists targeted, said manager John Fitzgerald.

He received a call from a man with a foreign accent asking to schedule an inspection for the next day. The man calling told him that once he hung up, a computer will call him and provide a numerical code. Fitzgerald was then told by the man that he would call back for the numbers, which must be provided to inspectors before they arrived the following day to do the inspection.

"The recording gave a five-digit access code it says was for the website Craigslist," Fitzgerald said. "It just didn't seem right, so I called the health department."

Neither the county health center nor the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services require a number, or any other private information before conducting investigations, Morris said.

What scammers are trying to do is trick restaurants into helping them establish an identity for an online service, like Craigslist, according to the Better Business Bureau's website, which has received reports of similar scams across the country. If restaurants re-enter the code, the fraudulent caller avoids Craigslist's verification process and has a new account attached to the restaurant's phone number that could be used to scam others.

Panera manager Michael Rivers said his restaurant hasn't been called by scammers, but other Panera cafes in St. Louis and Chicago have. Panera Bread's corporate office recently sent a memo to all its managers warning of the scam.

Anyone who encounters someone claiming to be a public health official asking for something out of the ordinary should call the public health center at 335-7846.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

3093 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO

3219 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO

1121 Linden St., Cape Girardeau, MO

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