After he sold the business in 2004, Diane Peskin said, a friend suggested investing with Madoff, who was known for his consistent, reliable returns. They gave the money from selling their old house to Madoff as well and lived off the interest from their investment.
We're caught between a rock and a hard place," she said. "The real estate market has collapsed and we have no cash."
"It left us without any income," she said.
Sherry Maccabee of San Francisco is a retired interior designer and had no plans to start a new career in real estate, but when she found out her retirement savings were wiped out, she said she had little choice.
"It was total shock and disbelief... having that reality seep in," Maccabee told ABC News. "I was planning to use [the money] to live. I'm 57 years old. I'm not getting any younger. Its part of my retirement money. I was planning on having a cushion."
More shocking than her loss, Maccabee said, was what she called the government's "assisted robbery," citing the reported failure of the SEC to thoroughly investigate Madoff.
"I was brought up to believe that you can trust the government most of the time," she said. "Then you find out you've been robbed... They fell down on the job.
"My real question is, I've got a problem. I've been robbed. I need to go to my government for help. Who's helping?"
Until the answer comes, Maccabee is heading back to the work force, like so many other Americans, trying to make up a little for what was lost.