Health officials in England and Wales are investigating reports of a scam artist trying to blackmail food businesses into paying money in exchange for a new inspection score.
Authorities have received reports of a person claiming to represent either the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) or the local food safety authority. The scam artist is demanding to be paid, threatening that failure to pay will result in a fine from the agency.
FSA has made it clear that they, nor local authorities, would demand money from any food business in this manner.
Local food safety authorities are responsible for many tasks, mainly conducting routine inspections and determining food hygiene ratings based on those inspection findings. There is no charge for these inspections. According to FSA, local authorities may charge only when the re-rating inspection is requested by the food business.
"Although the number of reports of this particular scam are low, we are concerned that businesses may lose money to fraudsters pretending to be from the FSA or a local authority. If you are approached by someone asking you to hand over money in this way, do not make any payment and always advise your local authority,” says Angela Towers, head of the food hygiene rating team at FSA.
Food businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are scored using the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. Per this system, public display of the score sticker is mandatory. In England, however, the display of the rating sticker is voluntary.
The scheme is run by the Food Standards Agency and, in Wales, the Welsh Government, in partnership with local authorities.
Any suspected scam can be reported directly to FSA online.