Con men pose as fire inspectors, collect fees from unsuspecting businesses

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- San Mateo Consolidated Fire Department Fire Marshal, Robert Marshall, is dealing with fakes. Con men dressed like his staff, working the streets of San Mateo. It's a scam that can cost business owners anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

"As you can imagine," he says, "it's actually not very difficult to get a hold of a uniform, even with a fake badge, and go and find some unsuspecting person and tell them they're there to do a fire inspection." The con men look to collect fake permit fees, or money for work they will not perform.

San Mateo restaurateur, Eleni Lolas, knows all about these copycats.

"We had a gentleman walk in the front door, honestly he looked like a fireman, he was dressed in all blue he looked very official," she says.

The fire marshal says it isn't just appearances, these con men understanding timing, too.

"They may show up at 11:45 in the morning right before the lunch rush is supposed to happen," Marshall explains. "And they will go in there and they will say, 'Hey we have to do a fire inspection and we need to do it now. You cannot deny me this,' they put that urgency in there."

That's exactly how it happened at Eleni's downtown San Mateo restaurant.

7 on Your Side's Michael Finney told Eleni, "That's a classic con. It is an emergency, you have to do it now. So you got caught up in that?"

"Yes, but luckily I got caught up in it, but I didn't pay for it," she told him.

Why? Before paying, she called the fire department.

"I reached out to them and they said, 'that's funny we've been trying to get a hold of this guy.'"

The fire marshal says, "If someone shows up, and you have a question as to whether or not they are a legitimate fire inspector, call the fire department and ask them."

Any legitimate fire marshal won't mind you taking the time to make sure they are on the up and up.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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