AUSTIN (KXAN) - Austin city fire investigators are looking for your help to try and find a man they say is posing as a fire inspector and scamming businesses out of hundreds of dollars in fake fees.
He hit at least one downtown restaurant near Sixth Street and Congress Ave., and another in the southern suburbs Wednesday afternoon.
Bosses at the Austin Fire Marshal's office which manages the fire inspection program think there may be more victims. They confirm the same man hit a third restaurant Thursday in San Antonio.
"He comes across as being very legitimate, and says the right things," Battalion Chief Investigator Aaron Woolverton said. "He could have been doing this for years for all we know, just now we find out he's not legitimate."
The general manager of a popular steak house in downtown Austin says he'll get a scammer about once a week, someone looking for a free meal. When KXAN showed him a mobile phone photo of the suspect, Sal Olivas said he was surprised anyone would be gutsy enough to pose as a fire inspector, especially someone so apparently unkempt.
"There's no badge, he's unshaven. I've never seen a fire marshal or a fire inspector that looked that sloppy," said Olivas, who has managed Austin's downtown Ruth's Chris Steak House for a decade.
The man seen in surveillance images is dressed in a grey sweatshirt, black jeans and construction boots.
But this week, one of Olivas' neighboring businesses was fooled into giving this scammer nearly $200 cash. Earlier Tuesday, a store manager at Barton Creek Square mall was convinced to part with $600.
Austin Fire Department inspectors are always dressed in uniforms with a logo and carry formal badges.
The scammer in this case has not given a name or shown any form of identification. Instead, tells his targets he works with a private fire inspection company like 'Fire Boss' or 'Dragon Fire'. Staff at those firms said they didn't recognize the dark haired, heavy set man when Austin fire investigators asked.
What irks City of Austin fire investigators the most is the receipt he writes up, which reads ‘city fire prevention.' He also lists a fake address: 270 State Street. In Austin, there is no such street.
"What he's doing is not right," Woolverton said. "We want to protect the public."
Texas penal code has a category for impersonating a civil servant. It is listed as a third degree felony, punishable by up to two years in jail.
If you recognize the man, call investigators at 512 974-0240.
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