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Beware of health COA scam

Helderberg business owners are urged to exercise caution when approached by “health inspectors” requesting payment for the issuing of compliance certificates.

The City of Cape Town’s Health Department this week said it was informed of an apparent scam where criminals, posing as City health officials, are fleecing money from unsuspecting business owners.

The City’s JP Smith, Mayoral Committee member for Social and Security Services said they are aware of at least six cases, reported between February and May, of “bogus health inspectors conning businesses into paying for inspections and certificates that are usually issued free of charge”.

Strand has been flagged as one the towns where such a scam was carried out. Other areas include Mfuleni, Kleinvlei, Nyanga and Lakeside.

“The con artists are requesting payment for the issuing of Certificates of Acceptability (COA) for food premises,” Smith explained.

“[We] would like to inform the public that there is no charge associated with the processing or issuing of a COA indicating that food premises are compliant with health legislation. Furthermore, City officials are not permitted to accept payment directly from clients and any applications that do require payment should only occur at a City cash office or via an electronic funds transfer into the City’s bank account – details of which are available on the City’s website,” he added.

“It is unfortunate, but not unsurprising, that criminals are preying on businesses in this manner. This is more than just a moneymaking scheme. There are potential health risks because, if a certificate of acceptability is issued to a food premises that isn’t compliant with health legislation, it could potentially mean that food safety and hygiene practices are not in place and could result in unsafe food being consumed by customers,” Smith said.

He encouraged business who has been conned in this manner to report it to the police and provide as much information as possible to bring those responsible to book.

“The phenomenon could possibly be widespread, if business owners aren’t aware that they were conned. Also, they risk hefty fines or even arrest if they are found to be in possession of fake documentation. Our advice to businesses is two-fold. When starting your business or considering any amendments to your conditions of trade, rather consult your local Environmental Health office or the City’s website to determine what exactly you need, how to apply for it and what costs are applicable, if any.”

Smith cautioned business owners to insist on checking the credentials of anyone that comes to the business’ premises and demands payment for any type of inspection or documentation.

If they are still not sure whether it is legitimate, they are welcome to contact the local environmental health office to verify the story. Business owners can also check the legitimacy of any documentation provided by a third party with their environmental health practitioners.

To find your local environmental health office, visit www.capetown.gov.za.

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