Businesses in National City are on high alert after a fire inspection scam victimized a local hair salon.
National City’s Fire Marshal Robert Hernandez said in January that an unidentified man who worked for a fake company called First Fire Protection Systems went to Normy’s hair salon, located on East 8th Street, and said the company needed to conduct a fire inspection at the National City hair salon.
The man convinced business owners Normy Tulagan and her husband Danny that First Fire Protection Systems worked with the National City Fire Department, Tulagan said.
Normy let the man conduct the fire inspection. She then said the man went to the back of the salon for a few seconds, came back and said Normy’s passed the inspection.
The man then had Danny sign a certification of inspection.
Soon after, Normy’s hair salon received a $75 bill for getting the business of 34 years fire inspected. Tulagan said when she received the bill she immediately got suspicious.
“I got a bill from a company in Orange County,” Tulagan said. “They kept sending bill after bill after bill. Every time I try to call the company, I got no answer or it was busy,” Tulagan said she didn’t make payments on any of the bills.
Hernandez said First Fire Protection Fire Safety has a similar name to First Fire Systems Inspection Company, which is a company Hernandez said was revealed in local television news investigation that was part of a similar scam in other areas of San Diego a few years ago.
Hernandez said he can’t confirm if the two fraudulent companies are related.
“I can’t say it is the same company but the names are pretty darn close,” Hernandez said.
After receiving the first bill, Danny took the matter to the fire department, which told him the department doesn’t work with outside parties.
The fire department, in collaboration with National City’s Chamber of Commerce, warned businesses throughout the city about the scam.
Hernandez said the city’s fire department is the only one authorized to give fire inspections.
“Our responsibility in our fire code is to inspect businesses annually,” Hernandez said. “We do it professionally with proper identity.”
Hernandez said companies who give fire inspections are breaking the law by impersonating an officer.
Tulagan said when she contacted the San Diego Business Bureau about the scam was when she got a letter from First Fire Protection System that said to disregard all bills.
Normy’s is the only National City business that’s been targeted, Hernandez said.
Tulagan said her salon business was a target because she is Filipino.
“They think they can pull our legs,” Tulagan said.
Hernandez said if a business suspects someone is posing as a fire inspector, call the fire department immediately for verification.
Tulagan said recently another man came to her business to inspect the fire extinguisher. She said the man’s shirt sported the same eagle emblem as First Fire Protection Systems, but when Tulagan asked if he was part of the suspicious business he told her First Fire Protection Systems was taking his emblem and using it.
Tulagan let the man inspect the fire extinguisher and paid him $75 cash for his service. She said she trusted the man because she witnessed him check the extinguisher.
Hernandez said that it is common for outside companies not associated with a fire department to inspect fire extinguishers.