recent story out of Passaic County, New Jersey spotlights a problem that we have also seen here in the greater Albany-Capital District: people entering businesses and posing as fire extinguisher technicians.

The stories often have a familiar refrain: clipboard in hand, a swindler enters a quick service restaurant in attire common with service technicians–perhaps navy work pants and a collared work shirt–claiming to be with a local fire extinguisher company. They inform restaurant staff at the counter that they are there to service the building’s fire extinguishers or fire suppression system, which the employee has no reason to doubt. After allegedly performing said-service, the imposter presents a bill to the manager-on-duty and demands on the spot cash payment–sometimes several hundred dollars–which the manager feels obligated to pay. And the fraudulent technician is out the door, never to be seen again.

A scam with deadly consequences

“What’s the big deal?” you might think (other than a business being out some of their hard-earned money). Well, the primary concern is that your fire extinguisher and/or fire suppression system hasnot been properly inspected and serviced, which can have a snowball effect on you and your business.

Imagine this scenario: A fire breaks out in your business, and your fire extinguisher or fire suppression system does not operate as needed, since the shyster was the last one with his hands on the equipment. Your property is damaged or destroyed, or worse, someone is injured or killed in the fire. Your insurance company asks for the service records on your fire safety equipment, but the imposter who allegedly performed the task was not a certified technician. This is a violation in the terms of your insurance policy, causing your claim to be denied, destroying your livelihood, your finances, and your professional reputation. Clearly, this fraudulent technician’s seemingly harmless scam can have a tremendous impact on you and your company.

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Do you know how to spot a fraud?

Almost by definition, swindlers are crafty, so as a business owner, you have to learn how to spot someone impersonating a fire extinguisher technician and beat them at their own game. Here are a few red flags for you and your employees to look for:

  • What is the technician wearing and driving?

Most service and delivery personnel head out into the field each day in uniform and in a marked vehicle.  You should expect the same from a professional  fire equipment service technician.  If not, this should arouse suspicion.

  • What is on his or her clipboard?

Does the person standing in front of you have official looking paperwork and some information to suggest that they have visited your business before?  Or do they have a generic  sales receipt book, such as one might purchase at an office supply store?  The latter should make you uneasy.

  • Are you being asked for cash?
    Depending on your arrangements with service vendors, payment may or may not be expected at the time of service. Even if payment is required, most reputable service companies will allow you to pay with a check or credit card, thus providing a receipt and proof of payment should you need it for your insurance company.  Don’t hand over cash if you’re not comfortable.

The bottom line: Trust your gut

If a person seems suspicious, call the company they claim to be with to verify that they are an employee and a certified technician. And if a price quote from an unfamiliar company sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t gamble with your business’s fire suppression equipment; contact a reputable fire extinguisher service provider to get an appointment with a certified technician and to ensure you are fully protected in the event of a fire.

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