Sun08302015

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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Same wolf, different clothing: Assistant DA says scam tactics targeting seniors rarely change


Courtesy of StatePoint
Phone scammers use intimidation and threats when targeting seniors, who are particularly vulnerable to identity theft.

Los Altos resident Rebecca Truman last month received a phone call she wasn’t expecting – and likely won’t forget anytime soon.

Identifying himself as a Microsoft representative, the male voice on the other end of the line told Truman that her desktop computer kept sending the company error messages – the type typically seen when a program crashes. However, Truman quickly caught on that the call was nothing more than a haphazard scam attempt when the supposed service representative asked her to access the computer so that he could help her delete the messages.

“In hindsight, it was probably to remove the firewall,” said Truman, a Los Altos resident since 1992. “I told him that he was lying and that he needed to get another job. I pointed out that Microsoft corrects errors through software updates.”

Flustered by her response, she noted, the man became increasingly agitated with her stance, and at one point she heard him whispering to another person in the room, “She won’t believe me.”

Pleas quickly turned to threats, she added.

“He told me that if I didn’t comply that he’d freeze or shut down my computer,” said Truman, who eventually hung up on the man – only to have him call back again the next two days using different names. “His emotional intensity increased and at one point he was even yelling at me over the phone.”

Typical tactics

Janet Berry, deputy district attorney in the Elder Fraud Unit of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, said the tactics employed by Truman’s scammer – threats and intimidation – are typical, regardless of the story being told.

“What changes is not the nature of the scams, but the details of it,” Berry said. “It’s so low, and what amazes me is that it gets lower. There is no limit to the depths a scammer will go. … It’s completely ruthless.”

Despite the common nature of scam tactics, Berry said seniors and other residents in the county remain at risk of having their identities stolen and, in turn, their money. She noted that in 2012, more than 12 million Americans were victims of identity theft – which she called a “small slice” of the scamming pie – at a combined cost of $21 billion. Out of that pie, she added, was $2.6 billion lost in senior-related scams.

Berry said Truman’s caller used a variation of cold-call “phishing” tactics used by scammers in the hope that someone will eventually bite.

“If someone calls you, initiates the conversation and they want your information, it’s a scam – period,” she warned.

Brazen targeting

Reached by the Town Crier, Los Altos Police Sgt. Scott McCrossin noted that fear isn’t the only way scammers have lured seniors into handing over money. He pointed to a recent case in which a male scammer employed a common scheme typically used in scam emails to befriend and swindle a senior in Los Altos. The man told her he needed money to pay some outstanding taxes, in return for the promise to share some lottery winnings he was set to receive in the near future.

McCrossin added that the Spanish-speaking senior – buoyed by the promise of riches – went to her bank and withdrew several thousand dollars in cash for the scammer, whom she never heard from again.

No free lunch

“He was taking advantage of her for cultural reasons and because of her age,” said McCrossin, who added that con men targeting Los Altos seniors is nothing new, given the area’s affluence and robust elderly population.

Shawna Reeves, an elder-abuse expert and consultant based out of Oakland, said she’s seen the same scare tactics experienced by Truman in other schemes – including those who use government program signups like the Affordable Care Act to take advantage of uninformed residents. In these cases, Reeves said scammers typically offer seniors help navigating through the signup process and ask for an upfront down payment – while others ask for the senior’s personal information in order to do the signups for them. Those resisting the offer are often told they’ll face harsh financial or other penalties for noncompliance.

“Some would even say they’d go to jail – it’s that brazen,” said Reeves, a 1995 graduate of Mountain View High School.

Reeves said the promise of wealth is another common example she’s seen in the form of low-cost or free asset planning seminars for seniors. While many are legitimate, she noted, others simply serve as an opportunity to pressure seniors into purchasing investment products not suitable for their financial needs.

She pointed to a 2007 Securities and Exchange Commission study of 110 firms offering “free lunch” financial seminars. The study revealed that all of the seminars advertised as educational or those without sales pitches in fact did involve a sales presentation at some point. Another 50 percent of them featured “misleading” or “exaggerated” claims such as double-digit returns, while 23 percent offered “possibly unsuitable recommendations.” Another 13 percent, the report noted, “appeared to be fraudulent.”

“If you think about it, to put on a seminar costs something,” Reeves said. “They’re not doing it out of the kindness of their heart. They’re going to want to make money somehow. … It really comes down to remembering that there is no free lunch.”

In the future

Looking ahead, Berry said 2014 will likely feature more of the same seen in 2013 – more scammers targeting a growing population of seniors that now include many baby boomers.

“It would be safe to say that this gets bigger every year,” she said. “Some of them we find out about – I think most we don’t. It’s a hugely underreported crime, in part because of embarrassment and fear. If an elder tells someone they’re sending their money to Liberia or something, they’re afraid they’ll lose their independence. It’s really a reasonable fear.”

Despite what she concedes might seem like a gloomy landscape, Berry said she hopes that continued outreach and education will eventually lead to residents and law enforcement collectively putting “a major dent in the scam trade in this county.”

“I am hopeful, because every time I talk to people about elder-fraud prevention, they’re on board,” she said. “It just requires getting the word out, and the community gets galvanized – that gives me hope.”

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