Mon03302015

News

Safeway escalator elicits safety concerns from customers

Safeway escalator elicits safety concerns from customers


MEGAN V. WINSLOW/Town Crier
The escalator at the Safeway on First Street poses a safety hazard, some customers allege.

A Safeway shopper who accidentally placed his cart last month on the customer escalator instead of the shopping cart track next to...

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Schools

Los Altos High hosts 30th Writers Week

Los Altos High hosts 30th Writers Week


Above Photo by Traci Newell/Town Crier;
Author Jack Andraka shares his story with fellow high school seniors during Los Altos High School’s Writers Week last week.

Los Altos High School students learned firsthand last week how professionals ...

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Community

Service dogs bring smiles, comfort to veterans at Foothill College center

Service dogs bring smiles, comfort to veterans at Foothill College center


Photos by Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Charles Viajar, student and U.S. Navy veteran, brings his four-legged companion Bruno to the Veterans Resource Center at Foothill College. Bruno, a 2-year-old Imperial Shih Tzu, is trained to assist Viajar with...

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Sports

Improbable run to NorCal semis saves season for St. Francis girls

Improbable run to NorCal semis saves season for St. Francis girls


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Daisha Abdelkader goes on a fast break in the CCS Division II final. The senior point guard scored eight points in the Lancers’ NorCal semifinal loss to Dublin last week.

Senior Daisha Abdel...

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Comment

We'll buy it; what is it? Editorial

Would you buy a device on the condition that you are kept in the dark about how it works? Would you feel good about purchasing such a device when the contract even calls for nondisclosure of the nondisclosure form that keeps the device top secret?

T...

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Special Sections

Tuscany meets Waikiki: Los Altos Hills couple build their dream house

Tuscany meets Waikiki: Los Altos Hills couple build their dream house


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Sara Weber and Victor Martina’s Los Altos Hills home features brick from a 100-year-old building in San Jose artistically combined with stucco to evoke a centuries-old feel. The lanai in the backyard adds a touch o...

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Business

Vintage Bath changes hands as new owners add twist to classic offerings

Vintage Bath changes hands as new owners add twist to classic offerings


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Vintage Bath, the downtown Los Altos showroom, is under new leadership. Taking over are, from left, co-owners Jerry Rudick and Deena Castello and marketing and visual director Alissa McDonald.

Deena Castello – the new cu...

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Books

'Pope Joan' Book weaves tale around legend of female pontiff

'Pope Joan' Book weaves tale around legend of female pontiff


The idea that there may have a female pope at one time in history has generated much speculation throughout the centuries. “Pope Joan” (Crown, 1996) by Donna Woolfolk Cross, does not answer the question; rather, the author has created a detai...

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People

BEVERLEY JEANE (DORSEY) MCCHESNEY

BEVERLEY JEANE (DORSEY) MCCHESNEY

1944-2014

Beverley McChesney passed away at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, CA on Sunday, Nov. 16. She had been fighting cancer for about 23 years until it went into her lungs.

She is survived by her husband David, of Cloverdale; her sisters...

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Travel

Eat, hike, soak: Cavallo Point Lodge offers Marin experience

Eat, hike, soak: Cavallo Point Lodge offers Marin experience


Eren Göknar/ Town Crier
Cavallo Point Lodge comprises former U.S. Army buildings, like the Mission Blue Chapel, repurposed for guests seeking a luxurious getaway.

It used to be a place where batteries of soldiers lived, with officers’ quarter...

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Stepping Out

Cal Pops performs Sunday at Foothill

Cal Pops performs Sunday at Foothill


Courtesy of Cal Pops
The Cal Pops trumpet section includes Dean Boysen, from left, Bob Runnels and Noel Weidkamp.

The California Pops Orchestra is scheduled to perform “Swing Time!” – a musical tour of Big Band hits from the 1930...

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Spiritual Life

Silicon Valley Prayer breakfast speakers send strong messages about God's calling

Silicon Valley Prayer breakfast speakers send strong messages about God's calling



Kirk Perry, Google Inc. president of brand solutions, discusses his faith at the March 13 Silicon Valley Prayer Breakfast. Alicia Castro/Town Crier

When God calls, you have to listen to reap the benefits.

That was the moral of the story for t...

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Magazine

Food for thought: Hidden Villa programs offer teens training in sustainability on the farm

Food for thought: Hidden Villa programs offer teens training in sustainability on the farm


/Town Crier It’s not all cute and cuddly for teens participating in the eight-week Animal Husbandry Apprenticeship program at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills. Mia Mosing of Palo Alto, left, and Sophia Jackson of Los Altos clean the pigpens – one of...

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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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