Fri02052016

News

Mountain View braces for Super Bowl crowds

Mountain View braces for Super Bowl crowds


Graphic Courtesy of City of Mountain View
The purple parking lots above indicate where paid parking for the Super Bowl is allowed in downtown Mountain View. Other lots are open but still carry three-hour time constraints.

Downtown Mountain View wil...

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Schools

Los Altos High student hopes to bring animal therapy to school

Los Altos High student hopes to bring animal therapy to school


Courtesy of Christine Lenz
Los Altos High junior Riley Fujioka, left, works with Animal Assisted Happiness program manager Simone Haroush-van Dam.

Research affirms that the therapeutic effects of animals help reduce stress in humans, and one Los Alt...

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Community

Sports

Panthers outpace Priory

Panthers outpace Priory


Shirley Pefley/Special to the Town Crier
Pinewood’s Matt Peery lays up the ball in Friday’s win over Woodside Priory. Peery paced the Panthers with 19 points.

While height helps, the Pinewood School boys are proof that basketball is not ...

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Comment

From the City Manager's Desk: Fulfilling our mission

 

For those of us who work for Los Altos, the mission is “to foster and maintain the city of Los Altos as a great place to live and to raise a family.” The city’s employees take this mission seriously and – individually ...

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Special Sections

'Machos': Middle Eastern nachos ideal for Super Bowl

'Machos': Middle Eastern nachos ideal for Super Bowl


Photos Courtesy of Blanche Shaheen
Blanche Shaheen, above with her brother Issa, shares her Middle Eastern take on nachos – ideal for a Super Bowl party. Shaheen’s “Machos,” right, feature feta, tahini sauce, Persian cucumbe...

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Business

Businesses on Main Street make moves

Businesses on Main Street make moves


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Several stores on Main Street in downtown Los Altos are in the midst of changing hands.

In the coming months, Main Street will welcome several new businesses to fill empty storefronts.

Jennifer Quinn, the city’s econo...

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People

ROSEMARY FRASER

Rosemary Fraser, age 81, a long-time resident of the Los Altos/Palo Alto area, died peacefully Friday, the 22nd of January at her home. It was a sudden death; hypertension was the underlying cause.

Born in 1934 in Florence, Arizona, Rosemary enjoyed...

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Stepping Out

West Bay Opera tackles Tchaikovsky's 'Onegin'

West Bay Opera tackles Tchaikovsky's 'Onegin'


Otak Jump/Special to the Town Crier
Olga Chernisheva and Silas Elash perform in West Bay Opera’s “Eugene Onegin.”

The West Bay Opera production of “Eugene Onegin” is scheduled Feb. 19-28 at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305...

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Spiritual Life

How to cultivate childlike faith in a grown-up world

And Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

– Matt. 18:3

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Inside Mountain View

New right-to-lease ordinance promises relief for renters

New right-to-lease ordinance promises relief for renters


Mountain View Tenants Coalition/Facebook
Residents gather in the fall to protest Mountain View’s rising rents. Rent relief is on the way in the form of a new ordinance.

A controversial Mountain View law requiring landlords to provide lease opt...

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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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