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Officials warn of fire inspection scam

POSTED March 4, 2011 10:49 p.m.

The Turlock Fire Department is warning area businesses to be on the lookout for con artists posing as fire inspectors and billing companies for fraudulent services.

The scam originated in Southern California and has recently migrated up north, hitting businesses in Sacramento, Tracy, Stockton and the Bay Area. There have been no known reports of the scam in Turlock, but city fire officials are still cautioning business owners and managers to be wary of people presenting themselves as fire inspectors.

In the scam an individual or individuals will come into a business and represent themselves as fire inspectors. In most of the occurrences, the phony inspectors do a quick walk through of the business and then present an invoice ranging in price from $100 to as much as $400. In some cases the companies have been threatened with closures and expensive fines if they don’t allow the inspections.

“This is one of the biggest scams going around,” said TFD Fire Marshal Mark Gomez.

In Turlock, actual fire inspections are handled by the fire department. They show up in official vehicles, have full uniforms with badges and city identification and most importantly, they don’t present an invoice charging for the service, Gomez said.

The inspection for fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems is contracted out and does have a service charge, but Gomez said the people doing the inspection would have an official identification from the state fire marshal’s office authorizing them to do the work.

The scam of fake fire inspections doesn’t just cheat people out of money. It could leave them vulnerable should an emergency situation like a fire arise.

“Just because someone looked at a fire extinguisher doesn’t mean it’s working properly,” Gomez said.

An official fire inspection of an extinguisher requires it to be taken apart, not just looked at.

Official fire inspectors also typically present a list of findings, not just a bill.

If a business owner or manager is suspicious about a fire inspector or believes they were the victim of this scam, Gomez said they should contact the TFD at 668-5580.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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