Wed08052015

News

Residents help police nab burglary suspects

Residents help police nab burglary suspects


Courtesy of Los Altos Police Department
Police used security-camera footage to identify two burglary suspects.

With assistance from the public, Los Altos Police identified two suspects in a residential burglary earlier this year. Police arrested...

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Schools

BCS parents host summer bridge camp for students in need

BCS parents host summer bridge camp for students in need


Zoe Morgan/Town Crier Editorial Intern
Bullis Boosters Summer Bridge Camp counselor Sonia Uppal teaches students the basics of computer coding last week.

The Bullis Boosters Summer Bridge Camp aims to reduce the achievement gap by offering a hands-...

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Community

Los Altos resident continues work toward eradicating No. 1 cause of infant deaths

Los Altos resident continues work toward eradicating No. 1 cause of infant deaths


Courtesy of Marge Shively
Kathy Radford, from left, Ann Roper, Sandy Harapat, Betty Gillmore, Jane Halligan and Laura Griswald stuff envelopes to raise money for spinal muscular atrophy research.

Proceeds from the 13th annual NorCal Walk-n-Roll,...

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Sports

Lovin' Levi's

Lovin' Levi's


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Mountain View’s Austin Johnson, running after the catch, played multiple positions in Saturday’s game.

For Mountain View High’s Austin Johnson and Homestead’s John Rak, the highlight of playing in Saturday’s 41st annu...

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Comment

My solar clothes dryer: A Piece of My Mind

My cousin periodically sends me Internet nostalgia with comments along the lines of “Are you old enough to remember this?” One of her recent items struck me as newly useful in our energy-conservation-conscious times:

The Basic Rules for ...

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Special Sections

Killer crossover

Killer crossover


Gary Anderson/Special to the Town Crier
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC crossover is scheduled to debut this fall in the United States.

After a press drive through the Alsace wine region between France and Germany in the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC, we have ...

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Business

Cetrella ventures from seaside to Silicon Valley

Cetrella ventures from seaside to Silicon Valley


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Managing partner M’hamed Bahet oversees the new downtown Los Altos restaurant Cetrella, which features coastal cuisine and decor that celebrates the Peninsula region.

“Rustic,” “worldly” and ...

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Books

Book Signings

• Fritz and Nomi Trapnell have scheduled a book-signing party 4-6 p.m. Aug. 1 at their home, 648 University Ave., Los Altos.

Fritz and his daughter, Dana Tibbitts, co-authored “Harnessing the Sky: Frederick ‘Trap’ Trapnell, ...

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People

LILLIAN FLORENCE SLAVIN

LILLIAN FLORENCE SLAVIN

April 9, 1921 – July 17, 2015

Lillian Florence Slavin, long-time resident of Los Altos and The Forum at Rancho San Antonio, died peacefully on July 17, 2015.  She was 94 years old.

Lillian was born on April 9, 1921 to William Broadley and Fl...

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Travel

Gearing up: Make travel more civilized with accessories

Gearing up: Make travel more civilized with accessories


Eren Göknar/Special to the Town Crier
San Francisco-based humangear Inc. sells totes, tubes and tubs for traveling.

In travel, as in romance, it’s the little things that count.

Beyond the glossy brochures lie the travel discomforts too mun...

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Stepping Out

Funny 'Forum'

Funny 'Forum'


David Allen/Special to the Town Crier
Foothill Music Theatre’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” features, from left, Tomas Theriot, Todd Wright, Mike Meadors and Ray D’Ambrosio.

Some plays are meant to be quite serious, while oth...

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Spiritual Life

Life is fleeting – and you can't take stuff with you

Anyone who knows me knows that I love going to garage and estate sales. I love a bargain. I have enough stuff to live on, so now I seek out things that are interesting to me. I like looking for interesting artwork, though now my wife has tasked me ...

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Magazine

Inside Mountain View

Residents gather at NASA Ames for Pluto Flyby event

Residents gather at NASA Ames for Pluto Flyby event


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
NASA Ames’ Pluto Flyover event kindles the imaginations of young attendees.

Sue Moore watched the July 20, 1969, moon landing beside patients and staff members of the San Francisco hospital where she worked as a nurse...

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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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