Restaurants warned about callers trying to set up phony inspections

The Fayette County Health Department warned restaurateurs Friday to be aware of a nationwide scam in which callers claim to be health inspectors.

Restaurants throughout Kentucky have reported a recent wave of scam phone calls similar to reports that began in February.

Originally, callers were seeking sensitive information from restaurants and employees. In the latest round of calls — which have hit several franchise restaurants in Lexington — the callers seem to be seeking quick money.

According to a news release from the health department, the fraudulent inspectors ask to set up a time for an inspection and threaten monetary fines for non-compliance. Callers have said they will collect fines for any violations spotted during their visits, although there have been no reports of fraudulent inspectors showing up for an inspection, the release said.

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the Fayette County Health Department, said legitimate health inspectors in Fayette County don't schedule visits ahead of time. All restaurants are inspected twice a year during surprise "pop-in" visits, he said.

He said health inspectors never collect money in the field. Fines are paid at the department's office at 650 Newtown Pike.

Because the callers have never appeared for a scheduled inspection, it's unclear what their motive is.

Hall said it could be a type of testing phase. The callers could be "seeing what's out there and seeing what they can get."

The news release said restaurant employees are encouraged to ask for identification, which health inspectors are required to carry. Many restaurants know their health inspector by face, Hall said.

"If any lingering doubt exists about the legitimacy of a call or food inspector, facilities are advised to call their local health department," the news release said.

The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department's Environmental Health office can be reached at (859) 271-9391.