Sun08022015

News

E. coli found in Los Altos water indicated breach, but only low risk

E. coli found in Los Altos water indicated breach, but only low risk


Courtesy of Microbe World
Colorized low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria

When E. coli and other bacteria were discovered in some Los Altos water last week, officials from the local water supplier, California Water...

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Schools

BCS hosts Stretch to Kindergarten program for underserved youth

BCS hosts Stretch to Kindergarten program for underserved youth


Traci Newell/Town Crier
The six-week, tuition-free Stretch to Kindergarten program, hosted at Bullis Charter School, serves children who have not attended preschool. A teacher leads children in singing about the parts of a butterfly, above.

Local un...

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Community

Google car painting project calls on artists

Google car painting project calls on artists


Google self-driving car

Already known as an innovator in the tech field, Google Inc. is now moving in on the art world.

The Mountain View-based company July 11 launched the “Paint the Town” contest, a “moving art experiment” that invites Califo...

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Sports

Pedaling with a purpose

Pedaling with a purpose


courtesy of
Rishi Bommannan Rishi Bommannan cycled from Bates College in Maine to his home in Los Altos Hills, taking several selfies along the way. He also raised nearly $13,000 for the Livestrong Foundation, which supports cancer patients.

When R...

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Comment

The truth about coyotes: Other Voices

The Town Crier’s recent article on coyotes venturing down from the foothills in search of sustenance referenced the organization Project Coyote (“Recent coyote attacks keep residents on edge,” July 1). Do not waste your time contac...

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Special Sections

Grant Park senior program made permanent

Grant Park senior program made permanent


Photos by Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Local residents participate in an exercise class at the Grant Park Senior Center, above. Betsy Reeves, below left with Gail Enenstein, lobbied for senior programming in south Los Altos.

It all began when Betsy Reev...

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Business

New State Street rug retailer has downtown Los Altos covered

New State Street rug retailer has downtown Los Altos covered


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Los Altos Rug Gallery owner Fahim Karimi stocks his State Street store with a wall-to-wall array of floor coverings.

A new downtown business owner plans to roll out the red carpet – along with rugs of every other color –...

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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

GRACE WILSON FRANKS

GRACE WILSON FRANKS

Resident of Los Altos

Grace Wilson Franks, our beloved mother and grandmother, left us peacefully on July 16, 2015 just a few weeks short of her 92nd birthday. She was born to Ross and Florence (Cruzan) Wilson in rural Tulare, California on Septem...

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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

Going out with a 'Bang'

Going out with a 'Bang'


Richard Mayer/Special to the Town Crier
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” stars, clockwise from top left, Alexander Sanchez, Sophia Sturiale, Deborah Rosengaus and Danny Martin.

Los Altos Stage Company and Los Altos Youth Theatre’s joint production of t...

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Spiritual Life

Build a 'light' house and get out of that dark place

Most of us have a place inside our hearts and minds that occasionally causes us trouble. For some, it is sadness, depression or despair. For others, it may be fear, anger, resentment or myriad other emotional “dark places” that at times seem to hij...

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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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