Local News

Apr 2, 2010 8:51 PM by Ariel Wesler

Fake fire inspectors scamming local businesses

Local businesses beware. We have a scam to tell you about involving fake fire inspectors. The scammers are mainly targeting businesses in Santa Maria. Authorities say scammers are entering businesses, claiming to be city fire inspectors. Ten to fifteen businesses have already reported being duped in the scam.

Santa Maria fire officials say the problem is getting worse. More and more local businesses are falling victim to fire inspector fraud. At least ten have been targeted in the last three months--most of them restaurants.

"You've got a lot of business owners around here that aren't english speaking or managers in there and they probably get talked into things," said Mario Barragan, a manager at Bill's Take Out in Santa Maria.

The impersonators dress in all blue. They say they're performing maintenance on the fire extinguisher or fire supression systems and then slap the owner with the bill--some are thousands of dollars.

The fire department says these fake fire inspectors enter these restaurants through the back door and they head right to the fire extinguisher and begin working, without asking for permission.

"We don't refer any one contractor, nor do we send civilians out to do our inspections, said Emiliano Enriquez," a Fire Prevention Officer with the Santa Maria Fire Department.

In fact, city fire inspectors don't perform any work at all. They just point out what needs to be done.

"They'll always be in a uniform. . .should have a badge, and carry I.D.," Enriquez said.

With the cases still under investigation, Fire officials would not release the list of restaurants, but some restaurants say they'll use common sense.

"Somebody comes up, if you don't know who they are, they don't come in the door," Barragan said.

"It's sad that they're coming here and taking advantage of the community, but unfortunately, they know where to strike," said Michael Velasquez," a long-time manager at Tom's Take Out in Santa Maria.

It's unclear how many people are involved in the fraud.

So far, no incidents have been reported in San Luis Obispo. Santa Maria fire inspectors say these cases are widespread in Southern California. They are now working with the state fire marshall to investigate the scams.

If you would like more information on how to protect yourself, call the city's Fire Prevention bureau at 925-0951 X255.

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