September 5, 2010

Reporters' Notebook: Phone scams in Atwater

Phone scams are alive and well in this great land of ours, and Merced County is far from immune. John McAlister and his wife, residents of Atwater, were recently scammed out of $4,000 when they got a call from someone claiming to be a Los Angeles attorney.

The caller claimed the Atwater couple's grandson was in jail and they needed to wire money to bail him out. McAlister's wife sent the money, but didn't realize it was a scam until later when she called her grandson, who told her he wasn't in jail. Detective Armando Echevarria of the Atwater PD said such scams are common. There are many others, sometimes involving Craigslist or the lottery, that the department deals with.

To protect yourself from the jail scam, contact the appropriate jail to confirm if the person in question is actually in jail before sending any money, Echevarria said. Unfortunately, scammers tend to target the older population. Next time you answer the phone, be careful. Phone scams may be harder to detect than that Chinese millionaire who e-mailed you to help transfer his wealth to the U.S.

Regent's support

Fred Ruiz, a UC regent and founder of Ruiz Foods Inc., a family-owned frozen food company based in Dinuba, has set up an endowment at UC Merced to support entrepreneurship. He's also stumping for Meg Whitman for governor because, as he writes, "she's the only candidate with a plan to preserve our public university and college system."

Valley brand yogurt

Alex Lu-Pon, owner of Forte Frozen Yogurt on Merced's Main Street, is fielding a dozen or so offers for franchising his frozen yogurt. He declined to say if the companies were Californian or from out of state, but he hopes to become "the Central Valley brand" for frozen yogurt. "When it's hot in Merced and it's the Central Valley, we want to be the answer," he says. Forte has been open for about 14 months and offers various flavors of frozen yogurt while also serving as a venue for meetings, karaoke and open mic nights.

Covering Beck rally

The mainstream, or legacy, media fell into a trap of their own making in their coverage of Glenn Beck's rally in Washington last weekend. First, nearly all major newspapers and networks grossly underestimated the numbers at the rally, preferring "thousands" to any reckoning closer to the actual attendance, which the National Park Service estimated at 300,000. Second, they swallowed hook, line and sinker the "equivalence" bait tossed out by Al Sharpton, who criticized Beck for holding on the date and at the place of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. Sharpton, allegedly a reverend, has zero credibility with any reasonable person -- but not the MSM.

Use of stem cells

Maria Pallavicini, dean of the School of Natural Sciences at UC Merced, explained to the members of the stem cell consortium committee the unique properties of stem cells and their abilities to self renew and produce cells with specialized functions. She spoke last Thursday during a brainstorming session at UC Merced. Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) attended the meeting and said sheepishly that he hoped one day stem cells can transform fat cells into skinny cells.

More Rainbow guy

Paul Vasquez's love of rainbows has been well documented over the last few months, but it's obvious he loves the spotlight just as much. The Mariposa resident, whom we interviewed in July when his "Double Rainbow" YouTube video went viral, is now starring in a 43-second commercial for Microsoft. You can watch the commercial, as well as a second promotional video called "Meet Bear," at http://www.mercedsunstar.com/notebook.

-- Sun-Star Staff

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