Wed04012015

News

'Legacy of selflessness': Tributes pour in for Bob Grimm

'Legacy of selflessness': Tributes pour in for Bob Grimm


Tributes from all over the South Bay and beyond flooded the Town Crier last week as news surfaced of Robert Grimm’s death.

The longtime Los Altos resident, whose community contributions were many and legendary, died March 21 in Tanzania, Afric...

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Schools

Oak students showcase creativity in Destination Imagination competitions

Oak students showcase creativity in Destination Imagination competitions


Courtesy of Jane Lee Choe
The Sharp Cheddars, a team of Oak Avenue School sixth-graders, perform at the Destination Imagination state competition Saturday in Riverside.

A team of seven Oak Avenue School sixth-graders traveled to Riverside last week...

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Community

Circle of Support fundraiser bolsters domestic violence prevention

Circle of Support fundraiser bolsters domestic violence prevention


Tasneem Ismailji

Family & Children Services of Silicon Valley’s 12th annual Circle of Support Luncheon is scheduled 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 1 at Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club, 2900 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park.

The organization i...

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Comment

What would Bob do?: Editorial

The recent passing of an extraordinary Los Altos resident, Bob Grimm, has generated a range of heartfelt reaction, from sympathy to fond memories, from all corners. That’s because Bob did not discriminate in his desire to help others with his money, ...

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Special Sections

Cars that are right on track

Cars that are right on track


Courtesy of BMW
The BMW M4 is packed with power, featuring 425 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque.

There’s nothing more fun than driving a responsive automobile that feels alive in the curves and eager to go when given more than a touch ...

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Business

First Street's 'Fort Knox' up for sale

First Street's 'Fort Knox' up for sale


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
The Los Altos Vault and Safe Deposit Co. is on the market for $4.5 million. Its fortified steel and concrete structure has been compared to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s gold depository.

A downtown Los Altos structure “b...

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Books

'Pope Joan' Book weaves tale around legend of female pontiff

'Pope Joan' Book weaves tale around legend of female pontiff


The idea that there may have a female pope at one time in history has generated much speculation throughout the centuries. “Pope Joan” (Crown, 1996) by Donna Woolfolk Cross, does not answer the question; rather, the author has created a detai...

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People

JOHN BATISTICH

JOHN BATISTICH

John Batistich of Los Altos Hills died peacefully on March 12 surrounded by his family. John is survived by his wife Claire Batistich (Vidovich) of 67 years and children Gary Batistich of Lodi and Gay Batistich Abuel-Saud of Menlo Park. He is also ...

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Travel

Eat, hike, soak: Cavallo Point Lodge offers Marin experience

Eat, hike, soak: Cavallo Point Lodge offers Marin experience


Eren Göknar/ Town Crier
Cavallo Point Lodge comprises former U.S. Army buildings, like the Mission Blue Chapel, repurposed for guests seeking a luxurious getaway.

It used to be a place where batteries of soldiers lived, with officers’ quarter...

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Stepping Out

'Fire' ignites in Mtn. View

'Fire' ignites in Mtn. View


Courtesy of Kevin Berne
The cast of “Fire on the Mountain,” includes, from left, Tony Marcus, Harvy Blanks, Molly Andrews and Robert Parsons.

TheatreWorks is slated to present the regional premiere of the musical “Fire on the Mountain” this wee...

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Spiritual Life

Spiritual Life Briefs

Oshman JCC hosts Judaism and Science Symposium

The Oshman Family Jewish Community Center has scheduled its inaugural Judaism and Science Symposium, “An Exploration of the Convergence of Jewish & Scientific Thought,” 5 p.m. April 12 at the JCC’s ...

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Magazine

Food for thought: Hidden Villa programs offer teens training in sustainability on the farm

Food for thought: Hidden Villa programs offer teens training in sustainability on the farm


/Town Crier It’s not all cute and cuddly for teens participating in the eight-week Animal Husbandry Apprenticeship program at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills. Mia Mosing of Palo Alto, left, and Sophia Jackson of Los Altos clean the pigpens – one of...

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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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