Rise of the robocall machines

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Twice on Monday, an hour or so apart, a robot with a woman’s voice called Tim at his Central Kitsap house, warning him that the IRS was going to file a lawsuit to collect back taxes and that he better call her back.

“Don’t disregard this message and do return the call,” the recorded voice said. “This issue is very serious.” The number had a Virginia area code.

Tim is savvy, though. A retired shipyard worker, he does his own taxes and isn’t about to fall for the okey doke, a robocall phone scam that has been reported as far away as Florida.

Of course, then there is “Rachel from credit card services,” another robot Tim has gotten to know.

“That’s a classic,” Tim said, but noted sometimes “Rachel” switches it up and instead it is “Kimberley” calling. “I get that one a lot.”

Although Tim isn’t going to become a vic anytime soon, somebody out there must be falling prey to the new generation of telephone scam artists, which use technology to trawl for potential victims.

The Federal Trade Commission has noted a “significant increase” in “illegal robocalls” and the same day the “IRS” twice called Tim, National Public Radio published a report from a computer security expert who said those ghost calls — your phone rings but nobody is on other line — could be robots probing your number to determine if it is connected to a real life human, who might make a good real life victim.

“They’re trying to see: Are they getting a human on the other end?” Vijay Balasubramaniyan, CEO of Pindrop Security, told NPR. “You even cough and it knows you’re there.”

Even if a person isn’t at risk of turning over bank account information or Social Security numbers, it’s unnerving, and irritating.

“It’s getting to be insane,” Tim said.

A woman from Kitsap Lake I spoke with in June said her 98-year-old mother gets multiple scam calls a week. She received a similar call as the one Tim received, and thought the cops were coming to haul away her mom. She was ready to block the door until she called Bremerton Police, who told her, no, don’t worry, that was a trick.

Real human non-robots are still prowling the phone lines, though, so don’t despair that the robots are taking all the good con jobs from human thieves.

A Bremerton convenience store got swindled in January when a man posing as an agent of Puget Sound Energy called to say power was about to be shut off at the store unless the storekeeper ponied up some money. Maybe it was the human touch, but it wasn’t until after the woman wired in the money that it struck her: she had been had.

A Bremerton police officer called the telethief and had an informative conversation about the swindle – something you just can’t do with a robot. The conman confessed to getting a little fresh with the woman he bilked, but he also apologized for his off-color remarks.

Robots don’t get fresh, but then again, they also can’t apologize, unless they are programmed to apologize. But can they be programmed to mean it?


Kitsap Lake woman said her elderly mom gets three scam calls a week

phone scam


The caller said Holly Morton’s elderly mother, Genevieve, owed back taxes and if she didn’t pay – and pay immediately, like, in the next 45 minute – agents were going to come to her door and arrest her.

“I was shaking all over,” Holly said Tuesday. “I was going to have to stand in the doorway with arms open, saying, ‘You can’t come in and get her!’”

Holly, who lives near Kitsap Lake with Genevieve, called the Bremerton Police Department and spoke to an officer. He said in a very calm voice that it was a scam, the perpetrators were likely in a foreign country. He would forward a report to the FBI, but no cop was going to come and arrest her 98-year-old mother.

“I actually bought a thank you note for that,” said Holly, 65. “It’s nice to have support when this happens. It’s almost like we got robbed.”

Although the ruse was convincing, it’s not uncommon. Holly estimates she fields about three scam calls a week for her mom. Three.

The FBI has a page on its website dealing with seniors and scams. Although it offers plausible reasons for why seniors seem to be targeted so often, it doesn’t explain the mystery Holly describes: frequent calls from people she figures are not who they say they are.

Holly frequently checks on her mom’s bank accounts but that she doesn’t know why they keep targeting Genevieve, other than she is a senior and seniors seem to be targeted.

It’s gotten so bad, Holly has considered disconnecting the land line, but that would cause more problems than it solves, as it is how Genevieve reaches Holly when she is out shopping.

“Sometimes I say ‘hello?’ and they will hang up. Sometimes they will say they are selling a security system.”

“Security system is a big one,” Holly added. “It’s just horrible for senior adults to get picked on like this.”

Genevieve is hard of hearing, and doesn’t see well, which may be why she has not made such a productive mark for the scam artists who seem to be hounding her.

“Thank goodness she can’t hear, or she might answer and say ‘yes,’” Holly said.

New law lets cyclists enrage drivers who are not too distracted by their iPhones



In an effort to get drivers to look up from texting and get angrier at cyclists, a new law will give pedalers the right to blow through a red light IF the traffic signal’s sensors won’t pick up the bike AND they wait for a full cycle.

How thoughtful.

Many traffic signals use metal detectors embedded in the asphalt to let the signal know a motorist is waiting. Often enough, the sensors are not sensitive enough to detect two-wheelers.

Up until now, or next month when the law takes effect, lawmakers expected cyclists (and moped riders) to sit at the red light until hair grew out their ears.

Motorcyclists had the right to blow a red if the sensors weren’t sensing them, but not bikes, which have even less metal on them (On Bainbridge bicycles are made of carbon fiber and kitten whiskers, which is why the city has installed traffic signal detectors that can sense a person’s chakras).

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, as you read this on your iPhone while driving on Highway 303, when has the law ever stopped a bicyclist from running a red? The answer: never!

An interesting note on the new law:

It is not a defense to a traffic citation … (to proceed through a red light) … under the belief that the signal used a vehicle detection device, when it did not; or that the signal was inoperative due to the size of the bicycle, assisted bicycle, or moped, when the device was in fact operative.

Also, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize an exemplary traffic signal. The left turn light on the traffic light regulating the Bucklin Hill Road and Tracyton Boulevard intersection in Silverdale is a very sensitive and considerate traffic light, and always takes the time to notice my cromoly frame and let me pass.


Local lawyers to vote for their preference to replace Judge Laurie

Curious about the seven candidates seeking to be appointed to a Kitsap Superior Court seat being vacated?

Here they are, presented in order they appear on the local bar ballot, to be distributed tomorrow to dues-paying members.

-Jeffrey Bassett

-Rennison Bispham

-Roger Dunaway

-Alexis Foster

-Stephen Greer

-Melissa Hemstreet

-Thomas Weaver

Gov. Jay Inslee’s lawyer, Nick Brown, said earlier this week the governor takes into consideration the local bar’s opinion, and would personally interview one to two of the finalists.

It’s Judge Anna Laurie’s seat that is being vacated. She plans to enter retirement at the end of the month. Brown said Inslee would like to have somebody in place by no later than the first part of July.

Felon arrested by deputy watching from inside Jack in the Box

drive thru

A crafty Kitsap sheriff’s deputy, watching from inside the Silverdale Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru at 3 a.m. for suspects in a stolen gun case, didn’t make the arrest he was planning on making, but instead arrested a violent felon on a parole violation.

The deputy had spotted the tan Mercedes pulling into the drive-through Saturday, and found it was registered to a couple suspected of leaving behind a stolen gun at a Bremerton motel last month, according to court documents.

In order to confirm the identity of the people in the car, the deputy “formulated a plan” to watch from the drive-thru window. He contacted an employee inside, who let him in, and the deputy watched as the car pulled forward.

It wasn’t the criminals he was looking for, but behind the wheel was a criminal, a 25-year-old convicted of first-degree robbery wanted for a state Department of Corrections warrant.

Deputies arrested the man without incident, after he got his food. The man said he had been driving the car for about a month. Before booking him into jail on the warrant, the deputy found a scale covered in small specks of heroin. The man said the scale was used to weigh pot, and it didn’t belong to him.

Is there a new law protecting dogs in cars? Yes. Yes, there is

dog deal with it


Last week Gov. Jay Inslee signed a measure making it a civil violation to leave a dog in a car when it’s too hot or too cold out.

SB 5501 applies to more than just dogs, and it applies to more than just cars, and it gives legal protection to first responders who might break a window to free an animal withering in the heat of a car. (Inslee also line item veto’d some language in the bill applying to backyard livestock)

The law does not, however, give protections to passers by who might enter a car to save an animal, but local law enforcement officials have said if a person honestly believes an animal is in danger, they would not face prosecution.

Sandra Crump, a Poulsbo resident I profiled last summer who regularly patrols parking lots, hunting for animals in distress, called the bill a big step forward.

She believes the way to normalize kindness toward animals starts with the law. For some, she said, the threat of a fine provides the initial nudge. Additionally, she said the new law signals to society that a shift is taking place, and although the new law doesn’t do a whole lot — it provides for a civil fine of $125 — the publicity the law has received plants the seed.

Things are changing, she said.

“Even the pope says dogs have souls,” Crump said.


Man who pleaded to L & I fraud for BMX racing says there is another side to the story

tony perry


Tony Perry Sr. has dealt with a lot of pain in his life.

His father struck him in the head when he was child, requiring a plate to be implanted.

He walks with a limp, and in fact, his whole left side aches or is numb. That’s one of the reasons he likes to race BMX bikes. He may lumber through life on his own two legs, but on two wheels, he’s quick and graceful.

And racing BMXs, while he allegedly stated he was too injured to work and misrepresented the cause of an injury, is what got Perry in trouble.

Facing prosecution from the state for fraud, the 52-year-old Port Orchard man pleaded guilty last month to two counts of third-degree theft for what the state Attorney General’s Office says was his theft of about $14,000 in disabled worker benefits.

“I didn’t want to be plead, I didn’t think I did anything wrong,” he said.

The $14,000 figure is how much he received in workers’ compensation checks from January 2012 to August 2013, according to the AG statement.

“I did everything they told me to do,” Perry said, calling the AG’s statement a “one-sided story.”

Perry said he was offered the deal, and he understands there are no guarantees when you go to trial, so he took it, but it still smarts.

“Now I’m a thief because I’m riding a bicycle,” he said, claiming that he kept his doctors informed of his hobby, and with their encouragement continued racing.

Perry said a doctor said it was good for his lungs, good for his legs, and Perry said it was good for his head as well. He also said he did not make statements to the state Department of Labor and Industries, claiming the information the department received came from his doctors. The same doctors, he said, told him exercise would do him good.

“I’m not Josh Klatman,” Perry said, referring to the BMX pro from Kitsap. “I just wanted to do it for recreation and for my health.”


Pierce County prosecutors: No charges in Shaw death because woman was escaping sexual assault


photoThe reason Pierce County prosecutors passed on pressing charges against a woman involved in the Sept. 14 death of South Kitsap legend Leon Shaw was because they believe evidence shows that she was escaping a sexual assault.

Deputy Prosecutor Tim Jones, who specializes in traffic related death cases like vehicular homicide, reviewed the case file and made the call to decline charges. He said Tuesday the incident on the Key Peninsula where Shaw was killed was likely a sexual assault, but, also, if prosecutors pursed charges against the woman they would not likely get a conviction (read the full and complete story here and read Shaw’s epic obituary here).

“I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a wealth of evidence, but there is a sufficient amount of evidence of a sexual assault that she was probably escaping,” Jones said. “Put that in front of a jury and they would say, ‘What are you thinking?’”

Two rape kits were completed, but the results were not included in the package of reports the Kitsap Sun received as part of its public records request. Jones said he was not at liberty to discuss the results of those tests.

Also not included in the public documents were the woman’s medical records. A Washington State Patrol drug test on the woman’s blood found meth and booze, but no evidence of barbiturates. However, Jones said a search warrant of hospital records and blood samples did find barbiturates in the woman’s system. There was also evidence in the woman’s system of another drug that could impair memory or cause a blackout, Jones said.

The woman, according to her recorded statement to Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies, said Shaw had given her a pill he said was aspirin to help with the pain of the tattoo she was receiving. At some point after that she blacked out. She claimed she was drinking liquor, but not a lot of liquor, and said she can hold her booze. The tattoo artist friend said she took four big shots of Crown Royal whiskey on top of what she had already consumed.

If Shaw had survived the incident, Jones said it was hard to say if he would have been charged with a sexual assault. Shaw’s tattoo artist friend said no assault occurred, Shaw would have had the right to be silent and the woman said she doesn’t remember anything beyond making out with Shaw while she lied on a table getting a tattoo of a flower on her chest.

“I don’t know if she would be credible in reporting it, because she has got this blank spot,” Jones said.

Jones said if you consider the just the death and crash, it might appear like pretty clear-cut case of vehicular homicide.

“It’s pretty simple, get drunk, drive, crash, kill somebody in Pierce County you will probably go to prison,” he said.

However, the facts of the case are not that simple (see links above).


Judge Laurie to retire at end of June

judge laurie

Kitsap Superior Court Judge Anna Laurie wrote Gov. Jay Inslee today to say she will retire effective June 30.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith confirmed the letter, and said Inslee’s office will post notice of the vacancy soon.

Although judges can have a reputation for being no-nonsense while conducting their courtrooms, those who have been present to see Laurie finalize adoptions know she has a soft side.

This from a story I wrote last year about a finalization ceremony:

Some of the parents tried to quiet the young ones as Judge Anna Laurie spoke, but she told them not to worry.

“You don’t have to shush those children,” Laurie said, who was adopted from foster care as an infant. “You have no idea how joyous that noise is for me.”

This from Laurie’s page on the county courts website (it doesn’t mention that Laurie, like me, is from Renton):

Judge Laurie graduated from Highline Community College with an Associates in Arts degree.  She completed her undergraduate work at the University of Washington, graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology.  She later returned to the University of Washington to earn a Juris Doctorate.

After her graduation, she settled in Kitsap County and practiced law in Bremerton from 1982 to 2001 when she was elected to the Kitsap County Superior Court Bench.