The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has issued a warning to retail cannabis stores in the state about an ongoing scam strategy that has been happening for more than a year, according to the alert. Called the “fire extinguisher scam,” the perpetrators contact store employees via VOIP, a technology that allows users to make calls over the internet rather than regular phones, and impersonate the store’s owner or their attorney.
“Because the cannabis store employees truly believe they are communicating directly with the owner of the shop or their attorney, they have fallen for the scam.” — Excerpt, LCB alert
Once in the suspect’s snare, the employee is told that a government inspector is coming to the store to inspect fire extinguishers. They are then asked to take pictures of the fire extinguishers at the business, exit signs, business licenses, and other regulatory documents. Eventually, the scammer pushes the victim to meet up and bring large sums of cash from the business. In some instances, victims have been told the money is for an owner’s kid’s surgery, a license fee, and other falsehoods.
The LCB is advising cannabis stores to share this info with their employees and are asking any others who have experienced the scam to come forward. Law enforcement is involved in the cases identified.
The scam is only the latest crime spree to target the cannabis industry. There has been a recent surge of dispensary break-ins in Portland and dozens of cannabis dispensaries in Oregon, Colorado, and California were robbed during civil unrest related to the May 25 police killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.