News


Rash of phone scams reported in Palo Alto

Police, utilities department warn of current bilking schemes; woman scammed of $28,000

A range of phone scams have been reported in Palo Alto in recent weeks, including people posing as Internal Revenue Service agents, police officers or utilities department employees, demanding payment in suspicious ways. In one recent case, a woman was bilked out of nearly $28,000, Palo Alto police said.

On June 4, the Palo Alto Police Department issued a warning against two phone scams taking place in the city. Residents received calls twice during the last week of May from an official-sounding man who identified himself as a police officer. In both cases, the scammer claimed the residents had missed a jury duty appearance and now had outstanding $1,000 warrants for their arrest.

The scammer said they needed to go to a 7-Eleven convenience store, obtain two $500 "Green Dot MoneyPaks" -- reloadable debit cards -- and then provide the identifying number on the back of the card. One of the residents did this, purchasing one $500 card that the scammer could then access remotely. The resident then became suspicious and notified police. The other resident recognized the scam right away and called police.

In both cases, the residents were in their 60s or 70s. It is unknown at this point if the scammer was intentionally targeting older individuals, or if that was merely a coincidence between these two cases, police said. Detectives are investigating.

Sgt. Rich Bullerjahn said the arrest-warrant scams have risen in Palo Alto in the last few weeks. The victim is told they must pay bail or a fine, but they don't need to go to the courthouse.

"All you have to do is put a debit card together" and put it in the mail or supply the identification number, the caller says.

"No government agency that I know of in the U.S. asks you to pay over the phone or email by debit card," he said. Police officers never solicit cash from residents over the phone to take care of an outstanding warrant.

This is, unfortunately, a common scam nationwide. Similar cases have recently been reported in Pleasanton and elsewhere in the Bay Area, police noted in an announcement.

Scammers have also targeted local utilities customers and businesses with foreign-sounding last names who may speak limited English, calling to demand payment for overdue utilities bills, city Utilities Department spokeswoman Debra Katz said in a June 5 statement.

In this scam, the caller threatens to shut off power if the resident or business does not pay immediately. In the latest iteration, calls were rigged so that the City of Palo Alto Utilities Customer Service number, 650-329-2161, shows as the caller ID to make the call seem legitimate.

"This number is being used for calls into East Palo Alto as well, so PG&E customers there are calling us as a result. Yesterday, one such resident told us she'd just paid $300 (via MoneyPak) in response to a call. Needless to say, she will never see that money again," Katz wrote in the June 5 statement.

Katz said that "Nobody's power would ever be shut off out of the blue like this," and that when a customer is overdue on a utilities bill, the department sends several warning notices by mail and hand delivery before calling.

"If a person has any doubt about a call being legitimate, they should hang up and then call us, or PG&E if they live outside Palo Alto, directly to verify whether there are outstanding charges," she added.

The utilities department is urging people to warn family, friends and neighbors, especially if they are recent immigrants or have limited English language skills, which makes them easier prey, Katz said.

One Palo Alto woman recently fell prey to a third scam involving a fake Internal Revenue Service agent and lost $3,000, according to Palo Alto police.

The resident, who is in her 50s, received a call on June 6 from a man who said he was from the IRS. The man said she owed $3,000 and needed to pay the full sum that day; she could avoid consequences if she acted quickly. He instructed her to purchase six different MoneyPaks for $500 each, police Agent Marco Estrada said.

After purchasing the cards, the woman returned the scammer's call and provided the card numbers to the man. After she hung up, she realized she might have been scammed and called police, but it was too late. The man had promptly cashed out the cards, Estrada said.

A second Palo Alto woman in her early 60s was scammed out of nearly $28,000, also on June 6, Bullerjahn said.

The scammer calling from a 202 area code claimed that an IRS audit showed tax error for the years 2000 to 2008, and the woman owed the federal government money, When the woman protested, the caller threatened her with arrest. The scammer then emailed the woman a fake arrest warrant, Bullerjahn said.

The frightened woman thought the arrest warrant might be real, since the caller knew her name, two phone numbers and her Google account address. She followed the caller's instructions to send $4,000 on reloaded debit cards. But that was not the end.

"Like any scam, they make up other stuff," Bullerjahn said.

The caller said they found other errors and had miscalculated what she owed. After three more transactions the woman became suspicious and called police. Investigators looked up the phone numbers and found they were unlisted. Further investigation revealed the are numbers widely used for phone scams, he said.

The scammers often target middle-aged or older people, who often have other things on their minds and, in Palo Alto, tend to have enough money that the sums being asked for don't raise a red flag, he said.

The IRS scam has become fairly common this year, he said. Suspects typically call from other countries, and it is very difficult to track the culprits down and recover the money.

"They try a bunch of different numbers all over the place. If one falls for it, they make money just like that. If you make a lot of phone calls and you've got $3,000 from one, that's a great day for you," Estrada said.

The IRS does not contact taxpayers by phone or email, according to the IRS. The agency always sends a written notification of any tax due through U.S. mail. The IRS does not initiate contact by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages or social media channels.

The IRS does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any email attachments or click on any links contained in a message. Instead, they should forward the email to phishing@irs.gov.

IRS officials issued multiple warnings prior to this year's April tax-filing deadline, but the number of reported incidents continues to rise, they said.

The IRS says that scammers often target recent immigrants, who are threatened with deportation, arrest, having their utilities shut off or having their driver's licenses revoked. Callers are frequently hostile or insulting, apparently trying to scare their victims, according to an IRS bulletin.

The scammers use fake names and badge numbers and generally use common names to identify themselves. They are also often able to recite the last four digits of the victim's Social Security number.

Many spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear as if the IRS is calling and sometimes use bogus emails to support their phone calls.

Victims sometimes hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.

After hanging up, others call back pretending to be from the police or Department of Motor Vehicles. The caller ID of those agencies is also spoofed, making it seem legitimate, according to the IRS.

Other scams also purport to be from the IRS, such as lottery sweepstakes and debt-relief solicitations, according to the agency.

There are several ways to report these scams:

Anyone who thinks they might owe tax money and receives a call from someone claiming to be the IRS should call the IRS at 800-829-1040. Employees can help taxpayers with a payment issue if they do owe money.

If a taxpayer knows they don't owe anything or have no reason to think they owe money, they should report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484. The taxpayer should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their "FTC Complaint Assistant" at FTC.gov. The IRS instructs people to add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in the complaint.

Residents who receive such calls from scammers pretending to be police or utilities employees should note the number from which the call originated, hang up, and notify the Palo Alto Police Department immediately by calling the 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Victims should also call the dispatch number to file a report, police said.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by just say no
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 11, 2014 at 6:27 pm

I've been getting scam calls from someone who claims to be from AT&T and trying to sell me cable TV. They ask a lot of personal questions about our daily schedule that are none of their business. I know this is a scam because I told the real AT&T to never call me. Now I just tell them to F-off and I advise you to do the same.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2014 at 6:35 pm

Wonder if the NSA could provide some of its much-vaunted metadata to the PA Police to track down these scum bags?

In the cases where the caller leaves a call-back number, are the police having any success locating these bums?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 11, 2014 at 6:58 pm

>> "The IRS does not contact taxpayers by phone"

Why do they ask for your daytime phone number down where you sign your Form 1040??


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Johnee
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2014 at 10:11 pm

I received a fake IRS phone call. The one I received had a computer voice saying something like, "The issue at hand is extremely time sensitive...my name is officer [something]" then it gives a "hotline" in the 202 area code.

At first I was a little concerned because the call-back number was in 202 (Washington DC), but then I googled it and found a lot of other people who had received the same call.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by FYI
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2014 at 8:43 am

Just Say No,

AT&T, as well as others, allow third parties to up-sell their services. A lot of phone soliciting is just that, calls from someone not affiliated other than as a third party seller. The reason for the questions is to figure out how to break through any resistance and/or get you to say something that might be construed as accepting the offer. This happened to my aunt shortly before she passed and resulted in charges to a cancelled phone number. The company tried to collect by playing the recording of the discussion, which to me only proved she was confused. They kept repeating a statement of acceptance and when she hung up without responding no to the last statement made they tried to say that was acceptance. It did not hold up!!

If you want them to stop calling, say all three of these...
1. Please take me off your call list
2. I am not now, nor will I ever be, interested in what you are offering
3. The answer is no
Supposedly you have to say all three to have them believe you are not worth trying again. If you hang up, swear, or otherwise anger them, they may put you back on the list just to bug you - so be firm but nice...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Barron Parker
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 12, 2014 at 10:37 am

I received two scam calls claiming to be from PA Utilities within 24 hours asking for personal information. I researched it, found an address, phone number and name. I called the Utilities office, reported it and was told to call the non-emergency police number to report it.

I did. The employee who answered the non-emergency police line said I should call the Utilities number to report it.

As of 30 days ago these scams are not yet important enough to the PA Police department to bother with taking a report.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Me three
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2014 at 11:47 am

We have received a lot of scam phone calls from phony banks, phony real estate agents, phony IRS people, phony solar equipment people.

We have asked ALL of them to stop calling, and all but one has.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I have a simple strategy. Screen your calls, that is don't answer the phone till you hear who is calling. None of the scammers or telemarketers will live the message, they simply hang up.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

E. Palo Alto residents have also been receiving the same calls, so an alert was sent out, but only about the utilities scam.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2014 at 12:54 pm

I definitely think they are targeting seniors and as I get all kinds of junk mail and calls (and I'm on a do not call list) attempting to sell me hearing aides, and 'inviting' me to attention retirement seminars, I'm disgusted at how generously my age information seems to be handed out to the economic vultures (retail and service equivalents of ambulance chasers). It's not information that I make available.

I got one of those claiming to be from the IRS and I immediately hung up. I know they don't call. The government is paper dependent and legal notices require that form of communication.

I've also been getting call-and-hang-ups daily in the past week. I'm wondering if someone's trying to figure out when I'm not home so they can have at my place.

Not at all happy about this latest string as I can't stay home forever and there's not enough room for a pit bull protector.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 12, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I got a call from the windows scam. The number was 209-682-5001. In order to send out a technician, The scammer wanted my address, which I did not give out.

I also get a call about the same time every day from Contractors wanting to do business.

What is the recourse to stop this?
I am on a No-Call List, but it is useless.

Can Law enforcement help???

Can Anna Eschoo help?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2014 at 1:35 pm

It is distressing how the do not call list is violated. I still have a landline but am thinking of discontinuing it owing to so many scam calls. I did check to renew the do not call (I think it lasts 5 years). Vague associates of legit businesses can be permitted to contact you (like an insurance company associated with your bank - who wants to solicit you) unless you totally opt out repeatedly with privacy schemes which are difficult to locate and complete. But actual criminals must be stopped at the start.

They can even "spoof" a seeming legitimate phone number, so looking on your machine for the number doesn't help. Example: area code on your machine indicates call is local - now means nothing, not necessarily a local call.

If one is unsure, just enter the phone number into a Google search and often one turns up a bunch of posts confirming the number is a scam and etc.

Please pass the word to friends and associates: if someone claiming to be IRs and etc. phones, right away a good idea is to write down info (phone # and statement) but DO NOT GIVE OUT ANY OF YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION over the phone to ANYONE! Sad that authorities are not taking reports. Still, we can warn others and spread the word various ways.

If you are unsure - was it REALLY IRS?? -- you can then look up legitimate service or government offices and contact them to inquire - there is always time. I gather these criminal scammers often operate with a pressuring message, which is mostly why they sometimes succeed. Let's try to stop these criminals.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by True Blue
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 12, 2014 at 8:26 pm

True Blue is a registered user.

Some of them do indeed leave messages - the IRS scam people left a message for us.

We regularly screen unfamiliar numbers and only pick up if it turns out to be a legitimate call. Note those calls you get where no one is on the other end are robot calls just finding out what time of the day you answer the phone. So definitely don't answer at times you don't want them to call (early am, late evening, dinner time, etc. It's better to not answer these calls than to answer and yell at them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sheldon Kay
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 13, 2014 at 7:45 am

How about the police or other authority give us information to give these scammers which guarantees their capture!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2014 at 1:03 am

"The IRS does not contact taxpayers by phone or email, according to the IRS."

This is incorrect statement. Editor need to check the facts. IRS might not ask for money over the phone, but they do contact you by phone. I was contacted twice in the past 10 years. IRS rep just told me that I made mistakes on my return. In 1 case, they just told me not to do it again in the future. In other case, they sent me a bill by mail.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Annon
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 17, 2014 at 12:15 pm

I just got a call - I have Xfinity email forwarding of my voicemails so I have a written record of this also - the number is from 800-644-4267 and when you call it back someone picks up right away and says "IRS" - i just hung up on them. The real number for the IRS is a different number and I know I owe nothing. The voicemail said something about taking care of this matter before it goes to Federal Court, then he ends with "God Bless" and his name as "Sam Smith" - haha-- no one from the IRS is going to say god bless also, I just found that amusing. I hate these guys, Set up your fax machine to blast them with modem calls every 3 mins.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Ang
a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm

San Jose Ca.

If you get a call from a person calling himself Officer Brian John
it's a scam. Do not let him scare you report the call to the police.
The number he gives as a call back is 202-864-1271.
Here is the info I got for this number. (It does not belong to the Police in
Washington Dc


Phone Type Landline/POTS/Broadband
Plain Old Telephone Service
Timezone US/Eastern + Daylight Savings
Current Time Thu, Jun 19, 2014, 02:06:24 PM
Location Washington, DC, US
Geo-Coordinates Latitude: 38.90 | Longitude: -77.03
Service Provider Local Access LLC - DC,
11442 Lake Butler Blvd,
Windermere, FL,
US - 34786-7813
Tower Switch WASHDC120MD
Provider Type Competitive Local Exchange Carrier
Area Codes/Exchanges 202-864,202-864-1,202-864-12,202-864-127

Exchange Started On September 22, 2013
Zip codes Covered 20005, 20002, 20004, 20001


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ang-Fonte
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 19, 2014 at 7:01 pm

[Post removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jen
a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2014 at 4:13 pm

I also received a scam phone call supposedly from a Microsoft technician. He wanted to walk me through steps on my computer to delete viruses. He said my anti virus software would only protect me on my hard drive and these viruses were located somewhere else. When I asked for the url he wanted me to go to he would only walk me through it when i was sitting directly in front of my computer. When I asked for their phone number he said to call back (209)682-5001 and ask for Steven. Very shady.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by a
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 22, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Absolutely all my calls come to my mobile line, I have not given out my home number to anyone in years. It is very easy to block calls on the cell phone, not so on a landline. Sometimes I call home to check in with my kids so they are instructed to pick up the phone if I am out of the house. I learned that my kids play with these telemarketers and give them the taste of their medicine: make up information, act as someone else, put them on hold for a long time while supposedly getting me -- fine with me, it keeps my kids entertained and telemarketers busy from bothering others. Keep these people on the phone as long as possible, you would be a doing a community service by preventing them from bothering others.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by wjd
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2014 at 3:46 pm

A quick search yeilded that the person residing at that address is Douglas Osborn. He is the only human contact specified at Local Access LLC (the telephone provider from which all these phone calls appear to originate).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 4, 2014 at 4:42 pm

My favorite story of how to deal with a telemarketer was the person who gave the phone to their two year old who proceeded to carry on a very two-year-old type conversation!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not Gullible
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 4, 2014 at 11:51 pm

I got a call from (267) 499-3620 this afternoon from someone with an East Indian accent claiming he was representing the "U.S. Department of Treasury" and there was a warrant for my arrest. He had my home and cell phone numbers, my name, and address (none of which I confirmed). I didn't want to waste my time to wait for him to tell me to reach into my checking account and pay money to waive the arrest warrant. Knowing I couldn't possibly have an arrest warrant, I told him to take me off his list. He hung up on me. I typed his phone number into the computer search engine and others have reported it's a scam too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by KLH
a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2014 at 3:25 pm

We get several a week from several scams or irritating folks who never remove you from their list and argue with you. Credit cards, Microsoft windows, IRS, etc. I am considering getting an air horn since they probably have a head set on, and after confirming it is one of the scams, letting them have it.


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