Health officials: Scam appears to target ethnic restaurants

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Officials with the Mississippi Department of Health want restaurant owners to beware of callers claiming to be from health inspectors.

Dr. Bob Travnicek told WLOX News the coast Health Department offices have received calls from restaurant owners asking about callers trying to schedule inspections and requesting information. Travnicek says the calls are not legitimate and warns restaurant owners against giving out any sensitive business or personal information.

"It's a national scam that's now here," Travnicek said.

The fake inspection calls seem to be targeting Asian and Mexican restaurants. Local health department offices received calls from a half dozen worried restaurant owners in the Pascagoula area this week.

May Wah Chinese Restaurant in Long Beach also received one of the questionable calls. Owner Tai Chan told WLOX News, the caller told him two health department inspectors would be at his restaurant Friday.

"He said his computer lady would give me a code for inspection. I asked for his number and wrote down the number," Chan said.

Chan was suspicious and called the health department.

"They [the health inspector] never call before an inspection," Chan said.

Pansy Maddox with the Health Department said Chan did the right thing. So far, Maddox said she knows of no imposter inspectors showing up at area restaurants, but she worries some have and the owners haven't reported the incident.

"What worries us, is there could be others out there being contacted by these scam artists who aren't calling us and [they] might think it's the Health Department and inadvertently give out information," Maddox said.

Restaurants in Pennsylvania, Washington and Iowa have reported similar calls from fake inspectors. In some cases, the callers ask for deposits for inspections or payments to avoid penalties.

Mississippi officials say none of the complaints here involve requests for money.

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