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News

Hills council strikes down proposed moratorium on substandard lots

With a divided vote, the Los Altos Hills City Council Wednesday (June 3) struck down a proposed 45-day moratorium on substandard lot development.

Mayor Courtenay C. Corrigan and Councilmember John Radford cast dissenting votes opposing the moratoriu...

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Schools

MVLA foundation recounts first year of Learning in the Cloud

MVLA foundation recounts first year of Learning in the Cloud


Traci Newell/Town Crier
Robert Barker, Los Altos High World Literature teacher, demonstrates how students use online discussion in class.

Technology is no longer seen as a distraction in the classroom, as students in the Mountain View Los Altos ...

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Community

Faria and friends unite to raise funds for cancer research

Faria and friends unite to raise funds for cancer research


Courtesy of Joseph Faria
Supporters of last month’s Relay For Life event in Mountain View include, from left, Los Altos residents Matthew Aufricht, Connor Chu, Matthew Demele and Dominic, Eileen and Joseph Faria. The Los Altos Relay For Life is sla...

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Sports

Right  on track

Right on track


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Mountain View High sophomore Rachael Estell leaps for the win in the girls long jump Friday at the CCS championships.

As far as locals go, the underclassmen overshadowed the seniors at the Central Coast Section track ...

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Comment

Coffee with cops? We'll drink to that: Editorial

The recent “Coffee with a Cop” event proved a good public relations move for the Los Altos Police Department. It also provided a great opportunity for residents to ask questions and converse with several officers, including the police chief, in an in...

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Special Sections

Deciphering the irksome sounds cars often make

Ahh – the troublesome, telltale auto noise. It’s that squeak, screech, squeal, groan, grind, hum, hiss, rattle, knock, clicking or ticking that drives drivers crazy.

Even with all the technology in modern cars, the sounds our cars make t...

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Business

Local couple launches downtown restaurant

Local couple launches downtown restaurant


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
The Turn Bar & Grill crew prepares for the restaurant’s impending opening.

Jim and Julie Otis are prepared to realize their longtime dream.

The couple – lifelong Los Altos residents – wanted to ensure ...

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Books

Horan's 'Loving Frank' offers fictionalized account of famed architect's illicit affair

Horan's 'Loving Frank' offers fictionalized account of famed architect's illicit affair


In the 1920s, two married people fall in love, leave their spouses and children and set about living and traveling together. Affairs of this sort were considered shocking at the time. But the scandal was heightened given that the man was Frank Lloy...

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People

DR. WALLACE IRA SAMPSON

DR. WALLACE IRA SAMPSON

     

Dr. Wallace Ira Sampson, 85, passed away peacefully on Monday, May 25, at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. He leaves his wife of 59 years, Rita (nee Landry) Sampson, brother Sandy, sons Robert, Paul (Suzanne), Buck (Kathryn), ...

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Travel

Flying south for the winter: Antarctica trips are not just for the birds

Flying south for the winter: Antarctica trips are not just for the birds


Photos Courtesy of Dave Hadden
Los Altos residents Dave and Joan Hadden watched the scenery from the large boat and a smaller Zodiac.

Standing on the beach with hundreds of thousands of penguins is “the experience of a lifetime,” according to Ga...

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Stepping Out

Kushner's 'Angels' arrives at Foothill

Kushner's 'Angels' arrives at Foothill


David Allen/Special to the Town Crier
Harper Pitt (Sophia Naylor) describes her life to Joe Pitt (Dan Martin) in “Angels in America,” playing in the Lohman Theatre at Foothill College through June 14.

The Foothill Theatre Arts Department’s produ...

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Spiritual Life

Magazine

Practice prudent pruning: Maintaining manzanita, ceanothus and toyon

Practice prudent pruning: Maintaining manzanita, ceanothus and toyon


tanya kucak/Special to the Town Crier
Shrub manzanitas are known for their sinuous mahogany trunks and branches. If the foliage hides the bark, prune selectively to open the center so that the bark is visible year-round. This Montara manzanita is ...

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Inside Mountain View

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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