Charges were filed Tuesday against the former owner of auto dealerships in Blue Springs and Independence. Terry Lee Morrow, Jr. is accused of a year-long identity theft scam and now faces 17 felony charges.
According to Attorney General Chris Koster, Morrow allegedly acquired personal information about his victims through applications for financing at Edge Auto Sales and used it to forge numerous loans. Morrow then sold the fraudulent loans to finance companies who bought the right to collect on them for a lump sum payment. It is estimated the loans totaled more than $1 million.
If convicted, Morrow could face life in prison. He is currently being held in Illinois pending extradition to Missouri.
Press Release from the Office of Attorney General Chris Koster
Attorney General Chris Koster and Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker today announced they have filed 17 felony charges against Terry Lee Morrow, Jr. for a year-long identity-theft scam which spanned two states and involved more than $1 million in fraudulent car loans. The case appears to be the largest identity-theft prosecution ever brought by state prosecutors in Missouri.
The complex identity-theft scam arose out of the operation of Edge Auto Sales, a Blue Springs and Independence auto dealership owned by Morrow. Morrow acquired sensitive personal information about his victims through Edge Auto’s car sales and through online applications for auto financing. Morrow allegedly used the victims’ information to forge dozens of fraudulent auto loans for car sales that actually never occurred. Koster alleges that Morrow then sold each of these fraudulent loans to automotive finance companies, who bought the rights to collect on the loan for a lump sum payment to Morrow.
The Missouri Attorney General’s investigation of Morrow stemmed from a tip from a consumer who had discovered the fake car loan on her credit report. Before the investigation began in 2012, Morrow had already fled from Missouri to Illinois, where he created another dealership, Silver Star Motors. Through this new dealership, Morrow reused identities of his Jackson County victims in addition to selecting new victims in Illinois to recreate his scheme. An Illinois consumer checking his credit report also discovered a fraudulent car loan and alerted authorities. The Cortland, Illinois, Police Department and DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott investigated and apprehended Morrow as he attempted to flee Illinois.
Morrow was charged with identity theft by DeKalb County prosecutors and is currently being held at the DeKalb County Jail, pending extradition to Missouri.
Koster said that his office has already discovered approximately $1,036,522 of fraudulent loans, which Morrow sold to four automobile-finance companies for more than $470,000 in cash. The Attorney General’s Office and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office continue to work with Illinois law enforcement to uncover the full extent of Morrow’s scams.
Koster said his office has identified 44 Missouri consumers whose information was used to create scam loans and believes there may be more victims. He urges anyone who did business with Edge Motors, or filled out financing information on Edge Motors’ website, to contact his office at 800-392-8222. Koster said his office has worked with the financing companies that bought these sham loans and has reached agreements with them to remove the loans from consumers’ credit reports.
In addition to Morrow’s operations at Edge Auto, the Attorney General’s Office has discovered that Morrow allegedly fabricated the existence of a sham dealership in Kansas City, forging documents so that it appeared to be owned and operated by one of his Edge Auto victims. Morrow also created fake loans through this fictitious dealership. Koster said these new discoveries will likely lead to additional felony charges.
Koster, who launched his office’s Identity Theft Prevention and Repair initiative in September 2011, said this case highlights the value of consumers checking their credit reports. Koster urges all consumers to check their credit reports at least annually. Every individual is entitled to a free credit report once a year from the three credit bureaus. Consumers can access their credit report from any of the three (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com or calling toll-free 877-322-8228. Additional tips and information about identity theft can be found at http://ago.mo.gov/publications/idtheft.htm
“Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing scams in the United States, but perpetrators can be elusive and are notoriously difficult to track down,” Koster said. “We appreciate the vigilance of the Jackson County consumer who took the initiative to check her credit report and, when she found something suspicious, immediately contacted the authorities. The scope of this alleged identity theft scam was enormous, and it is gratifying to hold the perpetrator accountable.”
“We appreciate the effort of the Attorney General’s Office in building this case,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. “And I look forward to working with the Attorney General’s office to win justice for these consumers.”
Morrow faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of the charges.
The charges against the defendant are merely accusations. As in all criminal cases, the defendant is presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty.