Experienced jeweler opens new shop on Second Street

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Judy’s Collection owner Judy Wang opened her jewelry store at 188 Second St. last month in the space House of Treasures previously occupied.

Since Judy’s Collection opened in downtown Los Altos at the beginning of October, owner Judy Wang said hundreds of people have come in to say hello and introduce themselves, something she’s never experienced before in 35 years as a business owner.

Los Altos’ Bluestone Lane secures liquor license, hosts Local’s Hour

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Bluestone Lane in Los Altos recently launched a Local’s Hour, its version of the traditional happy hour. According to the cafe’s staff, the Watermelon Bellini and the Good Greens Granola, above, pair well.

After bringing Aussie-style, all-day breakfast and lunch to Los Altos for two months, Bluestone Lane recently secured a liquor license and has put its twist on a traditional favorite: happy hour.

Incoming bank, foundation team up to donate $100K to area nonprofits

The Village at San Antonio Center” width=
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
The Village at San Antonio Center in Mountain View, above, is set to welcome a new tenant in February when Fremont Bank opens a branch. Bank representatives selected the location in an effort to expand the company’s footprint to the southern end of the Peninsula.

When Fremont Bank opens in The Village at San Antonio Center early next year, local residents will already know its name – or at least that’s the hope of Brian Hughes, the grandson of the corporation’s founder and executive director of the Fremont Bank Foundation, a charitable giving program.

United Way seeks tax prep volunteers

United Way Bay Area’s Earn It! Keep It! Save It! program seeks volunteer tax preparers, interpreters and greeters to help staff Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites throughout the Bay Area during the 2020 tax season.

No prior experience with tax preparation is required, and all training is provided. With the support of trained, IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers, VITA sites provide free tax preparation to low- to moderate-income individuals and families at more than 200 locations across eight Bay Area counties.

VITA volunteers aim to help households receive the best possible refunds by ensuring they claim all deductions and tax credits available. For example, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit – one of the most powerful poverty-fighting safety-net programs in the country – can provide eligible families with three or more qualifying children a $6,557 credit. Sites also help families access the California Earned Income Tax Credit. Families with multiple children can claim the maximum credit of nearly $3,000, plus a new $1,000 credit for families with children 5 and under.

“When I saw the sense of relief and the smile that my first taxpayer had once I had prepared her return and she had fulfilled her obligation to file taxes, I was hooked,” said VITA volunteer Pete Shyvers. “United Way Bay Area sets the stage for a great experience.”

Free volunteer training provided by community partners and the IRS begins in December and January. Volunteer tax preparers attend three days of classroom instruction. There is also a need for outreach volunteers, a role that requires less training. For tax professionals or experienced volunteers, an online training and accelerated certification tool is available.

Site operation hours vary, but most volunteers are asked to volunteer regularly for at least one four-hour shift each week from late January until April 15. Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to volunteer. There is a special need for bilingual Spanish speakers.

Last year, approximately 2,800 Earn It! Keep It! Save It! volunteers in the Bay Area helped file more than 78,000 federal and state tax returns, resulting in more than $80 million in federal tax refunds.

To volunteer and for more information, visit earnitkeepitsaveit.org/volunteer.

Email phishing scams cost businesses billions

No matter the size of your office – or whether it’s a business, government or nonprofit organization – be on the lookout for phishing scams that appear to be routine emails from colleagues or the boss.

A new Better Business Bureau study reports that business email compromise scams have cost businesses and other organizations more than $3 billion since 2016.

How the scam works

You are in charge of paying bills at your office, and you get an email that appears to be from the CEO or another executive. The message seems like a routine request. The boss may ask you to wire money to a vendor or send employee tax information to an accountant.

In other variations, the scammer pretends to be another employee asking to have his or her pay deposited into a new bank account, or the email may look like it’s from a vendor or supplier requesting a change in invoice payment. In some cases, scammers even pretend to be someone from a charity or religious organization asking the recipient to buy gift cards on their behalf.

No matter what the scammer claims, the end result is the same. If you send the money, it goes into an account controlled by the con artist. These scams, sometimes called “spear phishing,” have resulted in more losses than any other type of fraud in the U.S., according to the FBI.

Tips to avoid the scam

• Secure accounts. Set up multifactor authentication for email logins and other changes in email settings. Be sure to verify changes in information about customers, employees or vendors.

• Train staff. Create a secure culture at your office by training employees on internet security. Make it a policy to confirm all change and payment requests by phone rather than relying on email.

If you’ve been a victim of fraud, call the bank to stop payment on the falsely made charge. Report it to the FBI in the U.S. or the Anti-Fraud Centre in Canada. If a report is filed within 48 hours, there is a chance the money can be recovered.

Complain to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. IC3 also asks people to report unsuccessful business email compromise scam attempts. Information from attempts may help establish patterns or identify mule bank accounts.

For more information, visit bbb.org/becstudy or bbb.org/scamstudies.

BBB warns of scammers targeting college students

Many college students are on the lookout for flexible, part-time employment to help cover their school expenses. If this describes you or a student in your life, watch out for scams. The Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker has received reports of employment cons impersonating professors and university departments.

How the scam works

You receive an email at your school email address encouraging you to apply for a job. The message appears to come from your school’s job placement office, student services department or even a specific professor. The position – it may be anything from pet sitting to secret shopping – sounds perfect for a college student. The work is easy, has flexible hours and offers excellent pay.

When you reply to the message, things start to get strange. The “employer” hires you without an interview. Then, he or she sends you a check with instructions to deposit it before you’ve even done any work. You are instructed to use the money to purchase gift cards, money orders, prepaid debit cards or other supplies you’ll need for your new job. Part of what you purchase should be sent to your new employer. The rest of the money will be your payment.

However, the check is a fake – a detail your bank will let you know a day or two after you deposit it. Any money you sent to your “employer” is gone for good.

Tips to avoid the scam

• Do your research. Before you accept any job, research the company that wants to hire you. Does the company have a professional website and legitimate contact information? Search for what others are saying about their experience with the company.

• Beware of red flags. Scammers often send emails with many typos and grammatical errors. They offer to hire you without an interview and even pay you before you’ve done any work. None of these are behaviors of a reputable business.

• Never send money to strangers. Never send funds in the form of cash, checks, gift cards or wire transfers to someone you don’t know or haven’t met. No legitimate company will ask you to pay them to get a job.

For more information on employment scams, visit bbb.org/employmentscam or bbb.org/avoidscams.

If you’ve been the victim of an employment scam, report it on bbb.org/scamtracker.

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