The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has warned the food sector to be on alert regarding a bogus letter which falsely identifies the sender as an agency official demanding payment for alleged breaches of food safety regulations.
The FSA said that the letter, which also references the London Borough of Newham Council as a co-sender, is a money extortion scam with the sender threatening prosecution if a payment of £1,000 is not received within seven days.
A FSA spokesperson told FoodProductionDaily.com that the matter came to light when a food trader contacted Newham Council following receipt of the fake cash demand.
He said that the agency wished to stress that as it is not a national enforcement authority for food law it would never send any such letters demanding payment, and breaches of food hygiene regulations would always be dealt with by local authorities.
“A letter of this type, which is threatening and intimidating in intent, would never be issued by the FSA or the local authorities, and any correspondence the agency or local authority has with food companies would always include contact details to assist with potential queries,” he explained.
The spokesperson said that, as of now, the agency is not aware of any other food companies having received such letters, but he said that more letters could surface in the new year.
He added that as the correspondence constitutes identity theft, it is now under police investigation, and he said if a manufacturer or food service operator receives such letters they should not send the money but instead report the letter to their local police.
A copy of the letter can be downloaded here .
In November, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put out a similar warning that individuals were impersonating agency officials in a payment swindle.
The agency said that the reports it had received involved consumer rather than industry deception.
According to these FDA’s reports, callers have enticed consumers to purchase discounted prescription drugs by wiring funds to one of several locations in the Dominican Republic.
A subsequent call is received from a fraudulent ‘FDA special agent’ informing the consumer that a fine of several thousand dollars is required to be sent to an address in the Dominican Republic to prevent incarceration or other legal action.
"Impersonating an FDA official is a violation of federal law," said Michael Chappell, the FDA's acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.
"The public should note that no FDA official will ever contact a consumer by phone demanding money or any other form of payment. FDA officials always present identification in person when conducting official business."