The circumstances of this story are unique, but the reasons behind the mistakes one woman made with her money are unfortunately quite common.
"People call me the teacup lady," said Joann of Santa Rosa.
She cared for her husband Fred until he died in 2005 after nearly 40 years of marriage. Fred's death meant she had to make the big money decisions she wasn't used to making.
"He always took care of the main finances. I knew, you know, a little bit like pennies or something, but anything big or worthwhile he always did," said Joann.
Joann decided to take her husband's fortune to buy five large cashier checks. We won't disclose the exact amount or her last name for security reasons.
"I figured they were safe. Everything was fine," said Joann.
Stanley Green is a financial advisor out of Larkspur who co-founded Marin Support Services for Elders in the 1980s.
"Elders are pretty nervous about what to do with their money. They don't want to lose it," said Green.
Unfortunately for Joann, that's exactly what happened to her money. Five years after buying her cashier's checks, the bank said it couldn't find any record of them. The bank refused to cash them for her.
"They just said, 'We can't find them. I can't find the check,' they would say and I said, 'Well, how can you not find it?'" said Joann.
Her cashier's checks were originally purchased from Downey Savings and Loan. U.S. Bank bought Downey in 2008. Green says a safer place to put the money would have been in an interest bearing checking or savings account or certificate of deposit or Treasury bill.
"The next notch up in rate of return and yield would be to buy corporate bonds, investment grade corporate bonds in which might have yields of more like two or three percent," said Green.
With the help of a friend, Joann eventually called 7 On Your Side in hopes of getting her money from U.S. Bank.
"I was furious. I was scared to death," said Joann.
That money represented her only income outside of her monthly social security check. We called U.S. Bank. The bank told us it received a list of outstanding items from Downey when it purchased it. The bank said, "If for some reason there is an item that is not on that list, we will research the matter and work with the customer to make it right." U.S. Bank was able to track down Joann's money.
"I cannot thank Channel 7 and the people down the line and everybody who helped to get this. It was just a miracle," said Joann.
We will continue to work with Joann to insure she gets the financial help she needs to make the right financial decisions.