Tue05262015

News

Hilltop robbery suspects implicated in crimes across Bay Area

Hilltop robbery suspects implicated in crimes across Bay Area

The three Oakland men arrested in connection to the May 11 home invasion robbery of a Hilltop Drive home are under investigation for numerous additional crimes committed across the San Francisco Bay area, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office revea...

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Schools

Preschool matriarch steps down

Preschool matriarch steps down


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Children’s Center Preschool Director Non Mead sits beside her granddaughter, Greta Germack, during Greta’s birthday celebration.

Non Mead is the quintessential grandmother. Wise and warm, she ties shoelaces with ...

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Community

No 'Love' for Facebook

No 'Love' for Facebook


COurtesy of TRU Love
Tru Love sent multiple messages to Facebook – and made calls to the media – before the company unlocked her account.

Tru Love’s name may be unusual, but she comes by it naturally.

If only Facebook saw it that way.

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Sports

Semi sweep

Semi sweep


Town Crier file photo
St. Francis High’s Steve Dinneen, rising up for the kill, posted 15 kills in Saturday’s CCS semifinal sweep of rival Bellarmine.

There was no letup in the Lancers. Although the St. Francis High boys volleyball team ...

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Comment

Statute of limitations: Haugh About That?

“I can’t believe he’d do this to me,” I cried hysterically. “After all we meant to each other.” Curling into a ball, torrential teenage tears melted my mascara as my entire world came crashing to an obliterated end...

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Special Sections

Cancer survivors march toward strength, hope via Relay For Life

Cancer survivors march toward strength, hope via Relay For Life


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Cancer survivors Eileen Chun, left, and Marilyn Labetich build strength at Curves of Los Altos.

Two local women took steps toward cancer recovery by caring for themselves and celebrating alongside each other.

Eileen Chun and...

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Business

Repeat business: Répéter consignment celebrates 10 years on State Street

Repeat business: Répéter consignment celebrates 10 years on State Street


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Kellee Breaux owns Répéter, the State Street women’s consignment boutique that celebrates a decade in business Saturday.

Kellee Breaux’s life is a triangle: The 36-year-old lives in Newark, teaches full time a...

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Books

People

EDITH MAY COOPER

EDITH MAY COOPER

September 20, 1908 – April 7, 2015

Edith Cooper died peacefully in her sleep on April 7th in Los Altos, California, at the age of 106, where she had been a resident for over 30 years.

She was predeceased by Frank, her husband and her 3 brothers B...

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Travel

Flying south for the winter: Antarctica trips are not just for the birds

Flying south for the winter: Antarctica trips are not just for the birds


Photos Courtesy of Dave Hadden
Los Altos residents Dave and Joan Hadden watched the scenery from the large boat and a smaller Zodiac.

Standing on the beach with hundreds of thousands of penguins is “the experience of a lifetime,” accord...

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Stepping Out

Bye bye 'Birds'

Bye bye 'Birds'


Ray Renati/Special to the Town Crier
“Birds of a Feather” stars Troy Johnson and Diane Tasca.

Pear Avenue Theatre’s world premiere of “Birds of a Feather” is set to run through Sunday in Mountain View.

The play is the third chapter in local pla...

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Spiritual Life

Mercifully in His grip: Exploring our true position in Christ

I recently read a wonderful analogy about our true position in Christ. It was shockingly contrary to the messages impressed upon me in church, but deeply rooted in the Bible. The analogy is that of child and a parent. If you have ever taken a small ...

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Magazine

Practice prudent pruning: Maintaining manzanita, ceanothus and toyon

Practice prudent pruning: Maintaining manzanita, ceanothus and toyon


tanya kucak/Special to the Town Crier
Shrub manzanitas are known for their sinuous mahogany trunks and branches. If the foliage hides the bark, prune selectively to open the center so that the bark is visible year-round. This Montara manzanita is ...

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Inside Mountain View

Civility Roundtable opens discussion on race, policing

With racially charged unrest shaking places like Ferguson, Mo., New York City and Baltimore, the Mountain View Human Relations Commission posed a question: “How can we prevent Ferguson from happening in Mountain View?”

Nearly 150 residen...

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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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