Phony health inspectors targeting Iowa restaurants - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Phony health inspectors targeting Iowa restaurants

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals reports scammers have been targeting Iowa restaurants over the course of the last nine months - specifically Asian restaurants.

DIA spokesperson David Werning said the Department believes these scammers are trying to take advantage of restaurant owners who may have a language or culture barrier.

The scammer poses as a health inspector and tries to get money or personal information from the restaurant owner or employees. In some cases, the phony inspector threatens to shut the restaurant down if the person doesn't comply.

Manna Java World Cafe in Dubuque isn't an Asian restaurant, but it has an International name.

General manager Frankee Moore received a threatening telephone call not too long ago.

"One of our servers answered it, and she said, 'Frankee, the Health Department's on the telephone,'" Moore said.

The caller identified himself as an employee of the Iowa Health Department of Inspectors.

"I've never heard of that," Moore told him.

"And he said, 'Oh, yes, it's a new policy, it's a new part of that, and I need you to listen to me,'" Moore said.

The man asked Moore to take down a reference number and said he'd call back. When he did, he started talking about getting credit card information.

"Then I'm getting suspicious," Moore said, so she called Tim Link with the Dubuque Health Department.

"She contacted me, and I was able to tell her it was an ongoing scam and that she should not do what they ask," Link said.

When the scammer called back, Moore said, "'Listen, don't ever call here again. What you're doing is illegal.' Then I heard click, and he hung up on me, so I was like, 'Yes!'"

Moore said she was able to avoid the scam partly because of her employee, who answered the man's call.

"She immediately said, 'I need to let you speak with a manager,' and I think that's a key thing: have your employees understand that this is going around in this city and in this state," Moore said.

"Well, it's really sad to hear somebody would be targeting restaurant owners," Link said. "We're always going to go to the restaurant itself and do an inspection, and that's where this scam is really different. They never do go to the restaurant."

The phony inspectors operate through bully tactics over the phone.

"We would never bully an establishment. That's not how we operate," Link said.

Restaurant owners unsure of a caller should contact their local health inspector, Link said. It's completely acceptable to ask for an inspector's credentials.

Werning said instances of these fake inspector calls have popped up throughout the state over the course of the past nine months and have been predominantly at Asian restaurants.

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