It Sounds Too Good to Be True ... and Is
This is the fourth
column in a 10-part series by Sacramentan Joyce Christensen on her experiences
caring for her elderly mother, Thelma Price. To
read the previous installment, CLICK
A few months after Mom moved to River's Edge, a new development happened.
Mom was introduced to a person who set up retirement annuities with a high interest rate. The old saying, "If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is" never occurred to Mom. She invested $60,000 of the money she got from the sale of her mobile home, which left her less than $15,000 in savings in case of emergencies.
Mom had signed the papers without any financial counseling. The $60,000 investment guaranteed her an interest rate of 12 percent, a yearly bonus of 7 percent, and her principal was safe during the five years of the annuity. She received 19 percent the first 3 years after she invested. Then, the person who sold Mom the annuity bounced a check. The next quarter, he was a month late with the payment. Everything went downhill from there.
My Mom had apparently lost her life's savings, which was needed for her retirement. I am still trying to redeem some of her investment by keeping in contact with the person who took her money. If recovered today, it would be worth $105,000 with interest and bonuses not paid. The man not only depleted her income, but continued making promises her money would be returned until the day she died.
Mom never knew she had lost all of her money. I always made sure she had everything she needed. Sometimes it was tough. Mom's money being taken by a scam artist is another story. I'll share that part of our story later.
Next, I noticed changes in Mom's activity participation. This happened about eight months after she moved. Once a week, she would stay in her room most of the day.
I stopped by to visit one day and noticed she had a lot of mail on her table. I asked where all of it came from. She said, "Oh, you know how much junk mail there is. I always read it in case there is something good." One day, she asked me to write her rent check and take it to the office. As I deducted the amount from her check balance, I noticed about a dozen checks written ranging from $5.95 to $29.95.
Mom had always been frugal with her money. She kept information about her finances to herself, so I hesitated to ask why she wrote so many checks. I looked at the envelopes she had saved. Most were from some type of contest boasting a chance to win millions. I thought this form of entertainment would keep her mind working, since there were a lot of crossword puzzles and papers to complete in order to win money. Little did I know just how expensive that paperwork would become.
A few months later, she canceled a couple of shopping trips. She said she was "too busy" to shop. She often had gifts to surprise me. For instance, she bought me two rings "just for being a good daughter." It made me feel special, but also concerned. Her magazine collection grew. She said when she bought gifts or magazines, it gave her a better chance to win lots of "expensive jewelry and cash in the millions." That statement got my attention! I decided to review Mom's checkbook balance. I was very surprised to find more than $1,200 had been paid out to enter contests in the past seven months.
I asked Mom if she would teach me how the contests worked. It was a very serious discussion. She was filled with pride as she educated me to all of the money she could win. I told her I had asked Detective Solgas from the Folsom Police Department to share information he had about scams targeting seniors.
"That sounds interesting, and I know Detective Solgas," she said proudly. And interesting it was. Most of her friends got the same contest offers Mom had, and they all had spent money trying to win. The problem was, nobody ever won. The Prize Patrol never came with the big check. A few admitted, sheepishly, they had dressed up and waited by the door a couple of times because they "knew they had won" and wanted to look good on TV.
Did that stop Mom from entering future contests? Absolutely not! She still believed she was going to be a "big winner someday." Over a two-year period, she spent more than $3,500. She no longer worried about not having enough money to live on. She concentrated on the "big bucks" she was going to win.
I found a way to stop most of the junk mail by contacting the post office. I spent quality time with seniors, sharing knowledge I had gained to encourage them to quit trying to "get rich" on contests. Some quit ordering new magazines and waiting for the Prize Patrol to arrive.
At the end of Mom's first year in her new digs, we got a big surprise. Her rent was raised $100 per month. We reviewed her rent agreement. Cost-of-living raises were "decided upon according to current market prices, which will be between 4 percent and 9 percent."
We reviewed her finances. She could handle the raise. However, one year later she received notice of another $100-a-month rent increase. That was cutting it too close. It was time to move.
At age 86, with her change of attitude, she was upbeat about moving. Especially since this home would be at Creekside Oaks in Folsom.
This time the move was easy. The rent was lower, and it was just as nice as River's Edge. I decided to create a project in Folsom targeting seniors in retirement communities. That would give me a chance to see Mom three or four times a week. She promised to introduce me to her most interesting new friends.
I was looking for a project idea to honor elders. I had the best time! It was amazing how many interesting people lived at the home. For example, Mom and I had lunch with John and Paige Cardwell, who had been married for 62 years, moved from South Carolina, and had lived at Creekside Oaks for two years. They were still very much in love. John was the best poker player around, so he was a known figure with the residents. Paige told me that John had worked on the Manhattan Project. After that, he served in the Pacific under General MacArthur. At the end of the war he had been recommended for a Bronze Star.
John Cardwell never received his Bronze Star. They had written more 50 letters trying to get the paperwork from St. Louis. His dream was to wear that Star before he died. Mom said it would make her very happy if I could help her friends. That was a request I could not refuse.
I worked with the local VFW, some congressmen and city officials. Through all of our efforts, we recovered the Bronze Star and spent a wonderful evening recognizing 17 World War II vets and one World War I vet living at Creekside Oaks. Among those honored was John Cardwell, receiving his Bronze Star after 55 years of hoping. Everything was a great success, and Mom became a "very important lady" at her new home.
Mom and I were having fun again. But, as life would have it, another curve in the road appeared.
Next week: Unforeseen events send Mom to an assisted living facility, then to a nursing home.
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Last Updated 3/18/03