Mon09012014

News

A flood of candidates seek seats on high school board

Two incumbents and five newcomers are vying for seats on the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees – a significant increase in the number of candidates who have run over the past 10 years.

According to data from the Sa...

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Schools

One more candidate joins MVLA race

When longtime incumbent Judy Hannemann declined to run again, the deadline to file for the upcoming Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees election was extended by a few days. Mountain View resident Sanjay Dave registere...

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Community

CSA salutes 'Hometown Heroes' at breakfast

CSA salutes 'Hometown Heroes' at breakfast


Mendoza

The Community Services Agency’s 2014 “Hometown Heroes” fundraising breakfast is scheduled 7:15 a.m. Sept. 19 at the Computer History Museum, 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View.

“Hometown Heroes” honors individuals and businesses for...

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Sports

No suit, no sweat

No suit, no sweat


Courtesy of the Gallagher Family
Joe Gallagher – a 12-year-old from Los Altos Hills – swims from near Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco shore. His uncle, Joe Locke, an accomplished open-water swimmer, accompanied him.

For his recent s...

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Comment

Back to school, back to thumbs: Editorial

The kids are back in class at our local schools and a new political campaign season is underway, so we have our thumbs out and ready to go.

Thumbs-up: To last week’s community workshop for rebuilding the Los Altos Community Center. The Aug. 19...

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Business

Sweet Shop celebrates five-year anniversary

Sweet Shop celebrates five-year anniversary


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Sweet Shop at 994 Los Altos Ave. marks its fifth year in business Sept. 7. The shop is a popular after-school stop for families and students.

When Stacy Savides Sullivan opened the Sweet Shop at 994 Los Altos...

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Books

"Jack London" chronicles author's adventurous life


Much has been written about American author Jack London, primarily known for his early-20th-century Western adventure novels, including the classics “White Fang” and “The Call of the Wild.”

In Earle Labor’s biography of the literary icon, “Jac...

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People

JEFF JOHNSON

JEFF JOHNSON

Jan 10, 1967 - Aug 10, 2014

Jeff was born and raised in Los Altos. He was a graduate of Los Altos High School. He then went to Foothill College where he had an opportunity to spend 3-months in Europe through a study abroad program. That experience...

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Travel

Visiting Vancouver Western Canada's premier destination has much to offer

Visiting Vancouver Western Canada's premier destination has much to offer


Photos courtesy of TOURISM VANCOUVER
Outdoor adventures abound in and around Vancouver, including a boat excursion into Horseshoe Bay and a jaunt on the Cliffwalk at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, among the most popular attractions in British Col...

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Stepping Out

'Water' rises in Mtn. View

'Water' rises in Mtn. View


Kevin Berne/Special to the Town Crier
Elliot (Miles Gaston Villanueva) struggles to understand Odessa’s (Zilah Mendoza) online activity in TheatreWorks’ regional premiere of the award-winning drama “Water by the Spoonful.”

TheatreWorks’ regiona...

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Spiritual Life

Spiritual Briefs

Meditation group meets at Foothills Congregational

A Weekly Meditation Practice group meets 7-8:15 a.m. Tuesdays at Foothills Congregational Church, 461 Orange Ave., Los Altos.

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Magazine

Los Altos Hills home showcases resort-inspired living

Los Altos Hills home showcases resort-inspired living


Courtesy of Spectrum Interior Design
In place of a more traditional fireplace, this modern living room features a linear-flame firebox that emits heat while offering a sculpturelike design element.

After traveling the world and visiting a host o...

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Same wolf, different clothing: Assistant DA says scam tactics targeting seniors rarely change


Courtesy of StatePoint
Phone scammers use intimidation and threats when targeting seniors, who are particularly vulnerable to identity theft.

Los Altos resident Rebecca Truman last month received a phone call she wasn’t expecting – and likely won’t forget anytime soon.

Identifying himself as a Microsoft representative, the male voice on the other end of the line told Truman that her desktop computer kept sending the company error messages – the type typically seen when a program crashes. However, Truman quickly caught on that the call was nothing more than a haphazard scam attempt when the supposed service representative asked her to access the computer so that he could help her delete the messages.

“In hindsight, it was probably to remove the firewall,” said Truman, a Los Altos resident since 1992. “I told him that he was lying and that he needed to get another job. I pointed out that Microsoft corrects errors through software updates.”

Flustered by her response, she noted, the man became increasingly agitated with her stance, and at one point she heard him whispering to another person in the room, “She won’t believe me.”

Pleas quickly turned to threats, she added.

“He told me that if I didn’t comply that he’d freeze or shut down my computer,” said Truman, who eventually hung up on the man – only to have him call back again the next two days using different names. “His emotional intensity increased and at one point he was even yelling at me over the phone.”

Typical tactics

Janet Berry, deputy district attorney in the Elder Fraud Unit of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, said the tactics employed by Truman’s scammer – threats and intimidation – are typical, regardless of the story being told.

“What changes is not the nature of the scams, but the details of it,” Berry said. “It’s so low, and what amazes me is that it gets lower. There is no limit to the depths a scammer will go. … It’s completely ruthless.”

Despite the common nature of scam tactics, Berry said seniors and other residents in the county remain at risk of having their identities stolen and, in turn, their money. She noted that in 2012, more than 12 million Americans were victims of identity theft – which she called a “small slice” of the scamming pie – at a combined cost of $21 billion. Out of that pie, she added, was $2.6 billion lost in senior-related scams.

Berry said Truman’s caller used a variation of cold-call “phishing” tactics used by scammers in the hope that someone will eventually bite.

“If someone calls you, initiates the conversation and they want your information, it’s a scam – period,” she warned.

Brazen targeting

Reached by the Town Crier, Los Altos Police Sgt. Scott McCrossin noted that fear isn’t the only way scammers have lured seniors into handing over money. He pointed to a recent case in which a male scammer employed a common scheme typically used in scam emails to befriend and swindle a senior in Los Altos. The man told her he needed money to pay some outstanding taxes, in return for the promise to share some lottery winnings he was set to receive in the near future.

McCrossin added that the Spanish-speaking senior – buoyed by the promise of riches – went to her bank and withdrew several thousand dollars in cash for the scammer, whom she never heard from again.

No free lunch

“He was taking advantage of her for cultural reasons and because of her age,” said McCrossin, who added that con men targeting Los Altos seniors is nothing new, given the area’s affluence and robust elderly population.

Shawna Reeves, an elder-abuse expert and consultant based out of Oakland, said she’s seen the same scare tactics experienced by Truman in other schemes – including those who use government program signups like the Affordable Care Act to take advantage of uninformed residents. In these cases, Reeves said scammers typically offer seniors help navigating through the signup process and ask for an upfront down payment – while others ask for the senior’s personal information in order to do the signups for them. Those resisting the offer are often told they’ll face harsh financial or other penalties for noncompliance.

“Some would even say they’d go to jail – it’s that brazen,” said Reeves, a 1995 graduate of Mountain View High School.

Reeves said the promise of wealth is another common example she’s seen in the form of low-cost or free asset planning seminars for seniors. While many are legitimate, she noted, others simply serve as an opportunity to pressure seniors into purchasing investment products not suitable for their financial needs.

She pointed to a 2007 Securities and Exchange Commission study of 110 firms offering “free lunch” financial seminars. The study revealed that all of the seminars advertised as educational or those without sales pitches in fact did involve a sales presentation at some point. Another 50 percent of them featured “misleading” or “exaggerated” claims such as double-digit returns, while 23 percent offered “possibly unsuitable recommendations.” Another 13 percent, the report noted, “appeared to be fraudulent.”

“If you think about it, to put on a seminar costs something,” Reeves said. “They’re not doing it out of the kindness of their heart. They’re going to want to make money somehow. … It really comes down to remembering that there is no free lunch.”

In the future

Looking ahead, Berry said 2014 will likely feature more of the same seen in 2013 – more scammers targeting a growing population of seniors that now include many baby boomers.

“It would be safe to say that this gets bigger every year,” she said. “Some of them we find out about – I think most we don’t. It’s a hugely underreported crime, in part because of embarrassment and fear. If an elder tells someone they’re sending their money to Liberia or something, they’re afraid they’ll lose their independence. It’s really a reasonable fear.”

Despite what she concedes might seem like a gloomy landscape, Berry said she hopes that continued outreach and education will eventually lead to residents and law enforcement collectively putting “a major dent in the scam trade in this county.”

“I am hopeful, because every time I talk to people about elder-fraud prevention, they’re on board,” she said. “It just requires getting the word out, and the community gets galvanized – that gives me hope.”

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