Takeaways targeted in 'Food Standards Agency' scam

As obvious targets for extortion scams go, the humble city-centre cafe would not seem to be the most likely choice for con artists.

But food-sellers in one London borough have been sent fake letters purportedly from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) threatening them with a £1,000 fine or closure for supposedly spreading dangerous bacteria.

Squires cafe in Canning Town, east London, contacted Newham Borough Council on Thursday after receiving a letter from a Nottingham address that was marked with the logos of the FSA, the Metropolitan Police and Investors in People. It stated that its author was working "in partnership with Newham Council" and demanded payment of £1,000 within seven working days.

Newham Council has written to every food-selling establishment in the borough, warning them not to be duped into making the payment. The letter states that tests on food bought at the premises had revealed high levels of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium which can cause meningitis.

Sent from an address in Gedling, north-east Nottingham, the letter threatens criminal proceedings, which could result in imprisonment or a heavier fine, and states solicitors for the FSA had already been appointed.

It is not clear how many premises have received the letter. A spokesman for the FSA said it would never send out such letters. "We talk to people rather than threaten them," he said.

Adeniran Aloyo, the manager of Squires cafe, said the Newham logo on the letter had made him suspicious.

"I was incredibly scared when I read the £1,000 figure but I know that the council is very reluctant to put its logo on letters, so that made me dubious. When I saw the police logo too, I wondered why they would want to get involved with such a small complaint."