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News

Enchanté plaza remains open to the public

Enchanté plaza remains open to the public

Alicia Castro/Town Crier
The plaza area at Enchanté Boutique Hotel now serves drinks and small plates.

The Los Altos City Council Aug. 25 voted unanimously in favor of Enchanté Boutique Hotel serving beverages and small plates to the public on t...

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Schools

Mountain View High launches Bring Your Own Device program

Mountain View High launches Bring Your Own Device program


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Mountain View High School staff distribute Chromebooks to students last week. The school is rolling out the Bring Your Own Device program this year, which gives students and teachers around-the-clock access to laptops.

Mo...

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Community

'Rock Back the Clock': End of an era, beginning of new one

'Rock Back the Clock': End of an era, beginning of new one


Town Crier File Photo
Time has run out for “Rock Back the Clock,” the 1950s-themed dance party at Rancho Shopping Center.

After 25 successful years, the “Rock Back the Clock” Committee has decided to end the annual 1950s-themed event held at R...

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Sports

Dean of the badminton court

Dean of the badminton court


Courtesy of the Tan family
Los Altos resident Dean Tan and mixed- doubles partner Jenny Gai stand on the podium shortly after winning the gold at the 2015 Pan Am Junior Badminton Championships earlier this month in Tijuana, Mexico.

Dean Tan began pl...

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Comment

Warning: Useless flood basin ahead

Our water and fire agencies receive much attention (and scrutiny) during the hot, dry days of summer – water for the lack of it and fire for its widespread destruction. During this extreme drought year, we are deluged with water conservation ma...

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Special Sections

A tale of two Los Altos love stories: Country club classic


Photos Courtesy of Kelly Boitano Photography
Lindsey Murray and Christof Wessbecher tie the knot in Los Altos.

Lindsey Murray and Christof Wessbecher grew up in parallel Los Altos orbits, never meeting – he went to St. Francis High School, sh...

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Business

Five thoughts on the current market correction

The 531-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average Friday (Aug. 21) was certainly headline grabbing in its magnitude. It represented a one-day 3.1 percent drop in the index and resulted in a 10 percent correction from its high in May.

It’s compl...

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People

BRUCE CHARLES MEYER

BRUCE CHARLES MEYER

Bruce Charles Meyer, 81, died Wednesday, August 5th at his home in Carmel, California. He leaves his wife Valda Cotsworth and her daughter Katie Roos; his sons, Bruce and Joseph Meyer from his first marriage and his brother Gordon Meyer; four grand...

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Travel

Carmel Valley Ranch unveils upgrades

Carmel Valley Ranch unveils upgrades


Courtesy of Carmel Valley Ranch
Carmel Valley Ranch recently upgraded its Vineyard Oak suites, which feature sweeping views, rocking chairs and private outdoor tubs for soaking under the stars.

Things are heating up at Carmel Valley Ranch, with 30 n...

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Stepping Out

Open 'House'

Open 'House'


Kevin Berne/Special to the Town Crier
Anna Patterson (played by Kimberly King) accepts a drink from Michael Astor (Jason Kuykendall) in “The Country House.”

TheaterWorks Silicon Valley’s regional premiere of “The Country House” is scheduled to r...

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Spiritual Life

Los Altos native combines Judaism, social justice, advocacy

Los Altos native combines Judaism, social justice, advocacy


Los Altos native Gabriel Lehrman’s passion for Judaism, social justice and advocacy brought him to Washington, D.C., this summer for the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship program at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

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Inside Mountain View

MV actress/playwright Garvin wins NY festival award for

MV actress/playwright Garvin wins NY festival award for "Corners Grove"


Courtesy of Undiscovered Countries
Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin received a New York arts festival award for a featured role in “Corners Grove,” a play she wrote.

New York recognized that one of Mountain View’s own can “make it there” when the Planet C...

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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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