‘Health inspector’ phone scam crops up here

Peggy Revell

Local businesses beware: a phone scam where callers pose as health inspectors has cropped up here in Rainy River District.
Posing as a health inspector, the scammers use the ruse of a “customer complaint” against the business for the need to book a health inspection—all while attempting to collect personal data and then use the business as a cover to bypass security settings for online websites.
“Be leery of anyone that’s phoning and trying to set up something like that,” warned Brian Norris, a health inspector with the Northwestern Health Unit here.
“We would never do that, and we would never ask for personal information,” he stressed.
When the health unit does inspections, they are never scheduled, Norris explained, with the inspectors just showing up on site and identifying themselves at that time.
“We don’t want people to be tricked into falling for [the scam],” said Norris, noting that while a lot of people are leery about giving out the information, others might not when told it’s a government agency calling and they could face fines if they don’t co-operate.
The callers give “just enough information to be slightly right,” reported Bonnie Blue owner Barb Stainke after receiving one of these calls Tuesday evening.
This includes claiming they were from the “Regional Health Authority”—a non existent entity in Ontario—and even giving out a fake badge number, she said, cautioning other local businesses to be on guard.
But once Stainke started asking questions, they wouldn’t give her any answers—even becoming hostile when she wouldn’t comply and threatening to fine her business, she said.
“I credit [recognizing it as a scam] to the wonderful town officials that we do have, and their working relationships with the public,” Stainke added, noting that in speaking with some of the other local businesses, they also had received similar calls.
If businesses suspect they have been contacted by someone impersonating a health inspector, they are encouraged to report the incident to the local OPP or to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (1-888-495-8501).
“Hundreds of restaurant and retail store operators across Canada have been contacted in the last two-three months by individuals impersonating public health inspectors, public health officials, or food inspectors,” the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors said in a news release issued earlier this month.
“They attempt to schedule an inspection of the food premises and then ask for a return call to confirm the information through the use of a unique code number,” the release noted.
“Operators are threatened with large monetary fines if they do not co-operate,” it added.
Businesses are targeted to both extort money and also so the scammers can set up fake identities via websites in order to fraudulently sell goods and services, the CIPHI said.
“These websites require a phone call in order to verify an identity before setting up an account.
“The operators are being duped into participating into this scam.”
For Stainke, the caller refused to speak about the “case” until she gave him an inspection number that was to be given in a follow-up automated phone call.
Stainke explained that when that phone call came, the automated voice said the given number was a password for “Craigslist”—a popular online website people use for classifieds and forums, and which now requires phone call verification.
“I’ve never been to that site, ever,” stressed Stainke. “And [the fraudsters] wanted me to give them that number, and I wouldn’t give it to them.
“When I started asking questions—he wouldn’t give me answers, and he started to get hostile,” she recalled.
“He gave me a supervisor, and I said, ‘Look, I’m not giving you this number. I think you guys are a fraud.’
“And he said, ‘Well, you’re getting a $500 fine.’ And so I said, ‘Well, bring it!’
“They actually called me three times, trying to give up the number,” Stainke added, calling them persistent—even phoning her back after she had hung up on them.