By Jeff Fox
A man sitting in an Illinois jail is accused of stealing the identities of 44 people in Jackson County, part of a $1.03 million fraud scheme based in Independence and Blue Springs. Officials are encouraging other potential victims to step forward.
“We believe that this is the largest identity theft case ever prosecuted in Missouri,” Chris Koster, Missouri atttorney general, said Tuesday.
The attorney general’s office has gotten the credit agencies and auto-finance agencies involved to wipe the incidents from the credit records of the known victims – who have been notified – but Koster said anyone who did business with Edge Auto Sales or filled out financing information on its website is asked to call his office at 800-392-8333.
“The scope of this alleged identity theft is enormous and could continue to grow,” he said.
Koster also issued a reminder for every consumer: “This case also points out the importance of regularly checking your own credit report.”
Terry L. Morrow Jr., 25, faces 17 felony counts – and possibly life in prison – in connection with the alleged scheme. The charges include identity theft, forgery and unlawful merchandising practices, all felonies.
It’s unclear where Morrow is from – possibly the metro area – but he had moved to Illinois, where he’s been arrested on similar charges and is being held in DeKalb County, awaiting extradition to Missouri.
Missouri has tougher laws on this than Illinois does, Koster said.
“So we have insisted that he face charges here in Missouri first,” Koster said, adding that he believes his office has a strong case. The attorney general’s office has worked closely with the Jackson County prosecutor’s office on the case.
Morrow owned and operated Edge Auto Sales, which for about the first half of 2011 was at 3550 Southwest U.S. 40 in Blue Springs and then was moved to 211 East U.S. 24 in Independence.
Here’s what prosecutors say happened:
From mid-October 2011 through mid-April 2012, Morrow took personal information – driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth – from previous Edge Auto Sales customers and fabricated contracts for auto sales that never happened. He then sold those contracts to four auto-finance companies – “sold this bad paper at a discount,” Koster said – pocketing $470,000 for $1.03 million in fraudulent contracts.
“And unsuspecting consumers were left holding the bag for his fraudulent loans,” Koster said.
By inventing false addresses for the victims, Morrow made it harder for the auto-finance companies to track them down and collect on the loans. Eventually, one victim in Illinois noticed something questionable on her credit report and stepped forward.
Officials suggested Morrow knew his scheme couldn’t last for long. He stopped operating Edge Auto Sales in April 2012 and had moved to Illinois.
Page 2 of 2 - At one point, Morrow also had created a fictitious auto dealership in Kansas City.
“The address of this business is not just in the River Market,” Koster said. “The address of the business is actually in the river. ... It’s difficult for me to see how he thought he would get away with this.”
Illinois law enforcement interviewed him in late January and he admitted fraudulently using at least 18 Missouri residents’ personal information, prosecutors said in court documents. They also said they took from him a suitcase with more forged auto-sale contracts.
Koster said the auto-finance companies were cooperative in clearing up the issues for the 44 known victims.
“So we’re going to be able to stem the damage in this case,” he said. “but a lot of people don’t check their credit report annually.”
Every consumer is entitled to a free credit report once a year from the three credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. You can call 877-322-8228 (toll free) or go to www.annualcreditreport.com. The attorney general’s office has other suggestions at http://ago.mo.gov/publications/idtheft.htm