Economy's drop shows Bernie Madoff wasn't the only swindler

In January, with the economy tanking and Bernard Madoff's $65 billion scam unraveling, Bruce Kramer met a nervous investor for lunch at Hawthorne's pizzeria in Mint Hill.

The investor, a Charlotte consultant who had invested several hundred thousand dollars with Kramer's foreign currency exchange firm in Cabarrus County, wondered if the money was safe. Kramer reassured him it was, recalled the investor, who asked not to be identified to protect his family.

Kramer then thanked him for lunch and drove off in a new $90,000 Maserati.

A month later, Kramer shot and killed himself. Court documents allege he swindled $40 million from 80 clients and spent much of it on luxury cars, a racehorse, art and extravagant parties.

Following the headline-grabbing Madoff case and stock market meltdown, authorities say they're investigating a growing number of investment-fraud cases and finding common threads. The scammers usually live large, spending millions on sports cars, sprawling homes and lavish lifestyles. They target members of the same community, church or ethnic group.

The schemes thrive on investors' greed, promising rates of return of 18-20 percent or higher. More recently, they've capitalized on fear, too, luring investors who wanted out of the volatile stock market. Many investors are retired or nearing retirement.

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