Los Altos Police Warn Scammers Are Impersonating Them

An elderly woman was rightly skeptical that two callers from the FBI and the Los Altos Police actually would be contacting her about a Publisher's Clearing House prize.


Los Altos Police are warning that callers are impersonating them and other law enforcement officials in a variation of a well-worn scam mentioning the legitimate Publisher's Clearing House contest.

A skeptical resident in her 90s thought a Friday morning phone call was too fishy to be true, and she was right, said Los Altos Police Sgt. Cameron Shearer.

"She’s pretty sharp," Shearer said. Indeed, 25 percent of Los Altans may be seniors, but they are hardly pushovers—even when the caller ID screen showed the Los Altos Police Department was supposed to be calling.

According to Sgt. Shearer, this is how the would-be scam unfolded: The woman received a call at about 9:30 a.m. by someone pretending to be an FBI agent. He told her that she had won $600,000 in Publisher’s Clearinghouse drawing but that somehow the money had been stolen and had been recovered by Mexican authorities.

The so-called FBI agent told her she woud have to wire $1,800 via Western Union to Mexico City, Sgt. Shearer. It's not known what the money was supposed to pay for, but often in scams like these the reason given is for taxes or insurance of the prize. When the woman expressed reservation, "He said 'We’ll have your local police department call you to verify this. She told them that the Los Altos Police was her local police department.

Then, an hour later a call came in from (650) 947-2777, which is Los Altos Police Department's parking enforcement number. "The call allegedly came from 'Detective Mark Bennett,'" Shearer said.

LAPD, indeed, does have an employee named Mark Bennett, but he is a community service officer and not a sworn police officer, nor a detective, Shearer said.

The so-called detective "told her the whole story was true and she needed to send the money off," Shearer said.

She called the Los Altos Police instead.

Shearer said the department wants the public be vigilant about callers who are using technology in trying to impersonate law enforcement.

"They’re obviously 'spoofing' our phone number and using the name of our employees," Shearer said. He was borrowing an identity theft term and not referring to light-hearted lampooning, as the word, "spoof" has historically been used.

In any case, don't fall for it, he said. 

The Better Business Bureau has these tips about scams involving Publisher's Clearing House contests, which always require that you first enter any of its  contests. You can also contact the real Publishers Clearing House directly for information at 1-800-459-4724, Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST or visit their website at http://www.pch.com

Joan Mather March 16, 2013 at 06:45 PM
The first quote in this article about the woman who checked out the phony sounding call is from the LA police officer Shearer who states: "She's pretty sharp." Then the text goes on to say that"25 % of Los Altans may be seniors, but they are hardly pushovers." How ageist can you be? The assumption being, of course, that it is unusual for an older person to actually have a normal brain and common sense!
L.A. Chung March 16, 2013 at 11:44 PM
It wasn't intentional ageism. The point was actually the opposite, but clearly it was not written well enough to get that across. Having covered law enforcement, what I hear is scammers target seniors. Los Altos is an attractive target because the population has a larger percentage of seniors than most cities. The ruse, too, was a more sophisticated, in that the scammer manipulated the caller ID to appear as though the call was emanating from the Los Altos Police Department, and used the actual name of a real LAPD officer, albeit not a sworn officer. So, yes. Pretty damn sharp.
Michael Dwells March 17, 2013 at 12:14 PM
Another scam that involves impersonating a police officer is this fake DEA scam call I read at http://www.callercenter.com. Based on the complaints, the scammers call victims who may have previously purchased drugs over the internet and identify themselves as DEA agents. The scammers then inform their victims that buying drugs over the internet is illegal and that legal action will be taken against them unless they pay a fine. In most cases, the scammers instruct their victims to pay the "fine" via wire transfer. If the victims refuse to send money, the scammers often threaten to arrest them or search their property.
L.A. Chung March 17, 2013 at 04:19 PM
@Michael: Thanks for bringing that one up. I hadn't known that, but it looks like everyone from CBS News to ABC's Nightline has reported it over the last few years, and the DEA itself had issued a news release warning that its agents do not demand fines. http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubs/pressreleases/extortion_scam.htm


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