If you have money invested in the stock market, you've no doubt seen your nest egg shrink significantly the last few months.
But imagine discovering that your entire life savings was gone -- and then learning that the man you'd hired to invest your money wasn't licensed to handle investments.
Sadly, that's what happened recently to several dozen folks, many of them here in Middle Tennessee.
So what did the self-proclaimed broker do with their money?
Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus found that he spent it.
As you look around Charles Vaughn's home in suburban Atlanta, there's little doubt this is the home of a man with money and lots of it.
Judy Freedman is an estate liquidator who was hired to assess and auction off Vaughn's belongings.
She said, "Money was no object with him. He surrounded himself with very expensive things and bought on the best."
There's a Rolex watch, sports team championship rings, rare gold coins, and in his driveway, two Mercedes, along with a custom-made semi to haul his speed boat.
Attorney Neil Gordon is the bankruptcy trustee overseeing Vaughn's case.
His take on Vaughn?
"He spent millions of dollars living a luxurious life, traveling the world first class, buying first class cars, first class boats, first class jewelry."
Gordon estimated that Vaughn spent somewhere between fourteen and twenty million dollars on his extravagant lifestyle. The problem though was that the money he spent wasn't his.
A man who only wants to be identified as "Mike" said, "I kept sending him more money and more money until he (Vaughn) had every penny I had."
"Mike" is just one of the many people who had trusted Vaughn with their money, believing he was carefully investing it.
"Mike" told NewsChannel 5, "To the average individual, it sounds like he's a genius. But, the truth be known, he's just a big talker."
Vaughn sent investors like "Mike" monthly statements showing how they were supposedly earning huge profits. Vaughn even mail some of the investors monthly dividend checks.
Bankruptcy trustee Gordon calls what Vaughn did a "ponzi scheme."
"He basically started conning them into believing that he was a very successful investment advisor and a security dealer and broker which he is not," Gordon explained.
More than three dozen investors, many of them here in Middle Tennessee gave Vaughn money, never imagining that instead of wisely investing it, he'd spend it all on himself.
And when the investors discovered what had happened, Vaughn suddenly filed for bankruptcy leaving them with nothing.
Not only did "Mike" lose money, but so did his relatives and quite a few longtime family friends.
"Mike" is devastated. "You put all your trust and everything you've save your whole life for and an individual that sold you on something that wasn't there and it's ruined my family's life and a a lot of our friends' lives."
Daphne Smith is the Assistant Commissioner for Securities with Tennessee's Department of Commerce and Insurance.
She agreed that this is a sad situation, but added, "It's simply a matter of people not doing their homework in advance."
Smith explained that investors might not be where they are today if they'd checked Vaughn's credentials before giving him any money. If they had, they would have discovered that he isn't licensed to sell securities in Tennessee, or anywhere for that matter.
She added that by contacting state regulators with her division, "We can provide them background on (investment advisors) employment, history on their education, history on whether they've been disciplined in a jurisdiction before, everything that would be relevant to an investor."
"Mike" admitted that he did not check out Vaughn's credentials before giving him money. He says at the time, he didn't know how easy it is and how important it is to do.
"These kinds of people prey on people that don't know these kinds of things," "Mike" told NewsChannel 5.
And despite his sizeable financial loss, "Mike" knows he's one of the lucky ones, so to speak. He's still relatively young and has a job, while most of Vaughn's other investors were retirees and in most cases, the self-proclaimed investment advisor spent their entire life savings.
Neil Gordon, the bankruptcy trustee, said of the victims in this scheme, "They don't have the ability over several more years to replace those earnings that they'd spent their whole life to accumulate and have not lost. It's gone."
Now at this point, believe it or not, Vaughn is not facing any sort of criminal charges for what he's done.
The FBI is now talking with the victims and working on a case though. But, if Vaughn is, in fact, ever indicted, the next challenge will be to find him. While authorities seized his passport, he reportedly still managed to flee the country and is believed to be somewhere in Europe.
So how do you protect yourself? If you're thinking about investing money with someone, check them out first with the Tennessee Division of Securities. You can either call them at 615-741-2947 or you check out a person directly by going to their Web site.