Thu11272014

News

VTA plans for  El Camino Real prompt skepticism

VTA plans for El Camino Real prompt skepticism


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
A Valley Transit Authority proposal to convert general-use right lanes on El Camino Real to bus-only use received a chilly reception last week.

A Valley Transit Authority proposal that prioritizes public transit alo...

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Schools

MVHS students attempt Guinness World Record

MVHS students attempt Guinness World Record


Barry Tonge/Special to the Town Crier
Local residents participate in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for making the most friendship braceletsNov. 9 at Mountain View High.

More than 300 Mountain View High School students gathered around...

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Community

Bigger, better days ahead for Foothill Veterans Resource Center

Bigger, better days ahead for Foothill Veterans Resource Center


Student veterans at Foothill College can seek support, access resources and socialize at the Veterans Resource Center.
Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Carmela Xuereb sees bigger things in store for the Foothill College Veterans Resource Center. One...

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Comment

Serving those who served us: Editorial

“Thank you for your service” often comes across as lip service to our veterans. As always, actions speak louder than words.

The Rotary Club of Los Altos has taken plenty of action, contributing time and money to improve opportunities for veterans th...

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Business

Report: Los Altos homes priciest in U.S.

Report: Los Altos homes priciest in U.S.


ToWn Crier File Photo
The average cost of a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Los Altos is 30 times more than the price of a similar home in Cleveland, according to a Coldwell Banker report.

The average cost of one Silicon Valley home can purchase ...

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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

RICHARD CAMPBELL WAUGH

RICHARD CAMPBELL WAUGH

Richard Campbell Waugh of Los Altos Hills, Ca. died at home October 31, 2014 surrounded by his family and caregivers.

Dick was born 1917, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He earned a BS in chemistry from University of Arkansas and a PhD in organic chemi...

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Travel

Weekday Wanderlust highlights the joys of armchair travel

Weekday Wanderlust highlights the joys of armchair travel


Dan Prothero/Special to the Town Crier
Travel writers at the October gathering of the Weekday Wanderlust group include, from left, James Nestor, Kimberley Lovato, Paul Rauber, Marcia DeSanctis and Lavinia Spalding.

Travel writing should either ̶...

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Stepping Out

Pacific Ballet's 'Nutcracker' opens Friday in downtown Mtn. View

The Pacific Ballet Academy is back with its 24th annual production of “The Nutcracker,” scheduled this weekend in downtown Mountain View.

The story follows young Clara as she falls into a dream where her beloved nutcracker becomes the daring prince ...

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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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