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News

First St. closure set for Saturday

First Street in downtown Los Altos will be closed Saturday (Nov. 22) between West Edith Avenue and Shasta Street for street paving. The closure is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In the event of poor weather, the work will be rescheduled for a later ...

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Schools

Scientists bring experiments into MV classrooms

Scientists bring experiments into MV classrooms


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
During a Science is Learning geology lesson, Theuerkauf Elementary School students learn about igneous rocks by observing how sugar changes form when heated.

Hundreds of local elementary students perform experiments w...

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Community

Local actors star in PYT's 'Oklahoma!'

Local actors star in PYT's 'Oklahoma!'


Courtesy of Peninsula Youth Theatre
PYT’s “Oklahoma!” features, from left, David Peters of Mountain View, Jenna Levere of Los Altos and Kai Wessel of Mountain View.

Time is running out to catch Peninsula Youth Theatre’s production of “Oklahoma!”...

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Sports

Eagles advance

Eagles advance


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos High’s Carmen Annevelink, left, and Kristen Liu put up a block against Mountain View. Annevelink totaled 20 kills.

Mountain View High’s out-of-the-gate energy could last for only so long against rival and he...

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Comment

Coping with addictions: Haugh About That?

Preparing to deal with my lifelong addiction, I stood in front of the mirror ready to confess the shame I’d been hiding. The first step to healing, I reminded myself, is to admit something is wrong.

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Special Sections

NASA, Google agreement preserves Hangar One

NASA, Google agreement preserves Hangar One


Bruce Barton/Town Crier
Hangar One, pictured here last January, will be restored under an agreement between Google and NASA.

NASA and Google Inc. forged an agreement last week that allows Google to lease a portion of NASA’s historic Moffett Fede...

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Business

State Street science center closing Nov. 30

State Street science center closing Nov. 30


Ellie Van Houtte/
Helix at 316 State St. is closing after the completion of a one-year grant from Passerelle Investment Co. The science center became a popular destination because of its various exhibits. Town Crier

A popular downtown destination...

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Books

Children's author signs books at Linden Tree

Children's author signs books at Linden Tree


Author Tiffany Papageorge is scheduled to sign copies of new her book 11 a.m. Dec. 6 at Linden Tree Books, 265 State St., Los Altos.

Papageorge’s “My Yellow Balloon” (Minoan Moon, 2014) is a Mom’s Choice “Gold” winner. In the book, the Los Gat...

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People

JAMES WINDELL SMITH

JAMES WINDELL SMITH

January 11, 1939 – November 6, 2014
Resident of Mountain View

James Windell Smith, a 40 year resident of Los Altos, passed away from complications after a post-surgery stroke November 6th, 2014 in Los Gatos, California.

Born on January 11, 1939 on...

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Travel

Olive Sonoma: There's more to the quaint town than wine

Olive Sonoma: There's more to the quaint town than wine


Eren Göknar/ Special to the Town Crier
While many day-trippers may think that Sonoma is all about the grapes, the region boasts other delights. Try a biplane ride over the patchwork landscape.

Sonoma, a scenic two-hour drive from Los Altos, boa...

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Stepping Out

LA Stage Company opens 'Fairway'

The Los Altos Stage Company production of Ken Ludwig’s new comedy “The Fox on the Fairway” is slated to run Thursday through Dec. 14 at Bus Barn Theater, 97 Hillview Ave.

A tribute to the English farces of the 1930s and 1940s, “Fox” is a romp that p...

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Spiritual Life

Author of Jewish historical novel slated at Congregation Beth Am

Author of Jewish historical novel slated at Congregation Beth Am


The Beth Am Women have scheduled “A Conversation with Author Maggie Anton” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at Congregation Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills.

Anton, winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, will discu...

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Magazine

Christmas At Our House home tour celebrates 26 years

Christmas At Our House home tour celebrates 26 years


Courtesy of Christopher Stark
Homes on the St. Francis High School Women’s Club’s Christmas at Our House Holiday Home Tour showcase a variety of architectural styles.

The days grow short on sunshine but long on nostalgia as the holidays approach...

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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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