Fri01302015

News

Foothill to offer four-year degree: Foothill aims to launch dental hygiene degree in fall 2016

Foothill to offer four-year degree: Foothill aims to launch dental hygiene degree in fall 2016


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Students enrolled in Foothill College’s two-year dental hygiene program, above, can soon earn a four-year bachelor’s degree for approximately $10,000.

Foothill-De Anza Community College District Chancellor Linda M. Th...

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Schools

Freestyle hosts exhibition at Computer Science Museum

Freestyle hosts exhibition at Computer Science Museum


Traci Newell/Town Crier
Mountain View High junior and Freestyle Academy student Radika Gupta, right, works with a fellow student during a WebAudio course this month.

For three periods a day, a small subset of students from Los Altos and Mountain Vi...

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Community

Museum explores Stanford, Valley connection

Museum explores Stanford, Valley connection


Courtesy of Julie Rose
The Los Altos History Museum’s “Symbiotic Superstars” event drew a crowd including, from left, “The Lure & the Legends” creator Nan Geschke, Stanford President John L. Hennessy, historian Leslie Berlin and Adobe Systems c...

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Comment

Good compromise on PE exemptions: Editorial

While “Deflategate” captures the national sports headlines, the local issue of physical education class exemptions for freshmen seems a much worthier sports topic for discussion.

The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Truste...

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Special Sections

Your Home Brief

Filoli hosts bird exhibition

Filoli kicks off the 2015 season of art exhibitions in its Visitor and Education Center with “The Birds of America: Audubon Collection,” a selection of prints from Filoli’s Permanent Collection, Feb. 10...

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Business

Wine & beer lounge coming to First Street

Wine & beer lounge coming to First Street


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The new wine and beer lounge Honcho heads to First Street, with a spring opening anticipated.

A cocktail lounge proposed for First Street has cleared its first hurdle – the Los Altos Planning and Transportation Comm...

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Books

"Fearless Genius" photos chart Silicon Valleys brain trust


Not every book needs pages and pages of words to tell a story – some do it through pictures.

“Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley, 1985-2000” (Atria Books, 2014) by Doug Menuez features more than 100 photographs Menuez to...

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People

RUBY DOSHIM LAI

Ruby Doshim Lai was born on July 26, 1929 and passed away at home on January 10, 2015. A resident of Los Altos for over 50 years, Ruby is survived by her husband Bill; children Gwen, Tracy and Allyn; and grandchildren Kiyoshi and Misa.

Born on Mott ...

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Travel

Cuban photographer slated to appear at Foothill

Cuban photographer slated to appear at Foothill


Courtesy of Raúl Cañibano
Cuban photographer Raúl Cañibano is set to appear at Foothill College tonight. His work – including the image “Series: Guajira’s Land, Viñales, 2007,” right – is on display at the KCI Gallery t...

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Stepping Out

'Betrayal' at Pear

'Betrayal' at Pear


Ray Renati/Special to the Town Crier
The cast of Pear Avenue Theatre’s “Betrayal” includes Maryssa Wanlass, from left, Fred Pitts and William J. Brown III.

The Pear Avenue Theatre presents Harold Pinter’s investigation of modern relationships, “...

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Magazine

Tracing history on foot: Hidden Villa’s long hike

Tracing history on foot: Hidden Villa’s long hike


Campers on Hidden Villa’s Sierra Backpacking Trip study historical photos to measure how the land has changed and alternate serving as student leaders who guide the route of their three-week trek.

Amid the high-tech camps and programs of a Bay Area ...

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A troubling trend: Senior scams become more complicated and common


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Ellen Schwartz of Los Altos received notification that she won a sweepstakes drawing she never took part in.

A piece of unexpected mail recently raised the suspicions of 58-year-old Ellen Schwartz, a Los Altos resident for 44 years.

Last month Schwartz received a letter from a New York City-based financial services company claiming that she won $250,000 in a lottery sweepstakes. The problem? She never entered the sweepstakes.

Making matters more mysterious, the correspondence included what Schwartz called a “legitimate-looking” check for $4,685 to cover fees allegedly related to receiving the money – but with a catch. She was to forward $3,400 via Western Union or MoneyGram to pay the taxes on the winnings.

“It looked very official, but I didn’t trust it,” said Schwartz, a swim instructor.

She took the check to her bank, which identified it as a fake. The bank’s internal fraud unit contacted the local FBI field office to report the incident.

“I got very bad vibes, so I red-flagged it right away,” Schwartz said. “It just didn’t make any sense.”

Troubling times

Janet Berry, deputy district attorney in the elder fraud unit of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, said Schwartz’s experience is a common example of the increasingly complicated efforts to scam seniors out of their money.

“It’s nothing less than a national disgrace that our elders are treated this way,” Berry said, adding that Los Altos is an appealing target for perpetrators because of its affluence and large senior population.

Berry said scamming has become a national industry, with defrauders trading or selling contact lists to each other. In the past 12 months, the DA’s office prosecuted 44 elder financial abuse cases, a total of 66 charges involving 50 defendants. The office rejected an additional 16 cases due to lack of sufficient evidence.

“They range all the way from misdemeanor charges (less than $950 in theft) to cases where hundreds of thousands of dollars were lost,” she said. “Those cases are usually where investment fraud took place or a situation where someone used power of attorney to swindle someone.”

Among the most common scams, Berry noted, is the “Hi, Grandma” approach, in which seniors receive a phone call or email notifying them that a grandchild is stranded in an overseas jail and needs money to post bail.

Another con reported to Los Altos Police involves perpetrators posing as utility workers and going door-to-door in an attempt to gain access to a home or solicit information – such as Social Security numbers – from residents.

Los Altos Police detective Abe Velasco said scammers target seniors in particular “because they’re more vulnerable and trusting.”

Los Altos Police Chief Tuck Younis added that as technology improves, so does swindling. More and more, he said, scammers can easily and cheaply produce “official-looking” materials like those Schwartz received.

“I do feel that it is getting more sophisticated,” Younis said. “There are people in our community with some wealth and that makes them potentially more of a target.”

And not everyone who goes from target to victim reports the crime to authorities. Berry noted that elder financial crimes – and other elder abuse crimes – are “hugely underreported” overall.

According to a June report by the National Center on Elder Abuse, more than 12 percent of the 5.9 million national elder abuse cases reported in 2010 involved financial exploitation, A June 2011 study by MetLife on elderly abuse noted that victims of financial scams lost a combined total of $2.9 billion in 2010.

Nationally, Berry said, “easily over one-half” of perpetrators committing an elder financial crime are family members. Often, she said, those family members gain power-of-attorney privileges and use a senior’s life savings to fund a lavish lifestyle or substance abuse habit. In other cases, caretakers, neighbors – and even other seniors – are the ones committing the crime. Just 16 percent of elder financial abuse cases are perpetrated by those who have no relationship with the victim, according to Berry.

“The most egregious part of elder fraud isn’t just that the money was taken, it’s the betrayal and lost of trust felt by the victim,” she said.

Resources and tips

Berry cautioned that financial crimes perpetrated on the elderly might soon be on the rise with members of the baby-boomer generation headed for retirement.

“We are looking at a wall of financial abuse coming our way,” she warned.

There are ways to avoid being a victim. Berry said resources are available to those who want to make themselves less vulnerable. Residents may report potential fraud by calling a hotline for seniors and the disabled established by the DA’s office at (855) 323-5337. Seniors can also contact the DA’s Consumer Protection Unit at (408) 792-2880. Berry added that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice “have extensive fraud information” available online as well.

The elder fraud unit offers a free training seminar, “How to Fraud-Proof Yourself,” to any county groups that are interested.

“We talk about how the scams work and what their hallmarks are,” she said of the seminars. “There really aren’t a lot of scams, just a lot of variations on the same scam.”

When it comes to family, money and the often-thorny issue of power-of-attorney privileges, Berry said seniors should never be “pushed into a decision.” All family members should be involved in those discussions at the same time to establish a checks-and-balances system. Overall, she added, seniors first need to “feel quite comfortable” in what they believe is the right decision without the potentially selfish influence of others.

Velasco said the best advice he can give seniors worried about getting scammed is an expression most of them have heard before: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

For more information, call the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office at (408) 299-7400 or visit sccgov.org/sites/da.

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