Scammers Are Impersonating Police, Los Altos Police Warn

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, Shearer said. 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


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