"Housejackings" reported in the area
SIKESTON -- Area residents have received a crash course in a crime that hasn't been seen in this area until recently: housejacking.
"I'd never heard of it -- this is my 54th year in the real estate business," said C.D. Alcorn.
Alcorn said over the years he's heard plenty of stories about people stealing horses, cars and even chickens, "but I'd never heard of someone stealing a house."
His first indication that something had gone horribly wrong was when the locks were changed on one of the homes he owns.
"When that happens, that is pretty good indication someone has a loan on it but has not been making payments and they are getting ready to foreclose on it," Alcorn said.
Only Alcorn doesn't owe any money on the home.
Attorney Jim Robison, who is representing Alcorn in his fight to get the deeds to several homes back, also initially thought the crime of home theft was a bizarre, new scam.
"Now I realize it's been happening all across the county," he said, "so it's not a new scheme. It never occurred to me that people could be swindled by forged deeds. When I stop to think about, there's really no safeguard."
"Since this came out we found out it's prevalent in Florida and western Missouri and probably other places," Alcorn said.
For Alcorn, the whole mess got its start about a year ago when he was first contacted by people from St. Louis who told him they represented some real estate investors who wanted to purchase some properties.
"They had already purchased some homes in Sikeston from some friends of mine," he said. "They got their money and I didn't think anything about having any problems."
"What I think they did initially was set out to buy and pay for a lot of this rental property in the south and west part of Sikeston," Robison said. "There are a lot of property owners who actually got paid."
Alcorn sent them a list of properties. They soon responded, advising they had looked the homes over and were interested in all of them.
In November, Alcorn recalled, contracts were signed on about nine homes for a total of about $300,000.
"These properties were mainly in Sikeston -- I had one in Morehouse," he said.
Several months later, they closed on one of the properties and he received a payment for that home.
"That was less than $30,000," Alcorn said, "and that was all the money I received."
He soon discovered things were much worse than somebody backing out of an agreement to buy his property, however.
"About three or four weeks ago one of my tenants called me and said someone's changed the locks on one of my rentals," Alcorn said. "Then I went by another one that was vacant and the locks were changed on it. My first impression was someone was getting ready to foreclose on some properties that I still owned and I hadn't given a deed on to anybody."
Alcorn said he talked to another tenant who rented one of his homes who said she had received a letter advising she was to start sending rent to someone else as that person had purchased it in September.
"That was two months before I signed the contract for them to buy it in November," he said. "They were already selling my homes and collecting the money by forging deeds with my name on it prior to ever signing a contract."
Alcorn checked on other properties and discovered locks had been changed on several others.
It now appears that the scam had started as a way to sell investors homes at inflated prices.
The mortgage companies initially offered a "no-money-down purchase with 100 percent financing," Robison said.
The company also offered to manage properties for the investors, including collecting rent, making mortgage payments and sending any rent above the mortgage payment to the investor.
If the rent was less than the mortgage payment, the company said they would take care of the difference.
"So it was described as an absolute no-lose proposition," Robison said.
Robison said mortgages were taken out that were twice or even three times the amount the sellers actually received by using appraisers who apparently were in on the deal to inflate the property values. Many of the mortgages were subprime loans with extremely high interest rates.
The home loans were then sold off to larger mortgage companies. The investors, who were left owing money on properties that were not worth anywhere near the amount of the loan they had taken out, would simply stop paying on the mortgage once they realized they had been stuck with a bad deal.
The banks are now foreclosing on these properties. "Almost every foreclosure notice you are seeing in the paper right now represents one of these transactions," Robison said.
Only the banks are now finding their collateral isn't worth enough to recover their money or worse -- that they don't even really own the property.
"I'm asking the court to declare both the deed and deed of trust, which is the mortgage, be declared invalid," Robison said.
Robison said in the earlier transactions, the mortgage payments were paid for about a year, "and then it all began to fall in on their heads and that's when they began using the forged deeds."
With the forged signatures being notarized, the county recorder has no way to verify documents, "so it just goes on record," Robison said.
Who all is involved in the scam and who are victims of the scam isn't entirely clear.
Enterprise Title, Freedom Title Company, Nations Title Company and the Anchor Title Company were the title companies used in all these transactions.
But when the Anchor Title Company in Kirkwood was contacted about one of the homes, they claimed to have no record of ever being involved in the transaction, Robison said.
"At the present time there's nothing I can do but try to get the properties back with a good title, but now there is a forged deed on record and even some forged loans on them," Alcorn said.
Banks are also now finding out about the forged deeds, but in some cases, "there are still victims being created by these foreclosure sales," Robison noted.
When contacted for this story, FBI officials in St. Louis declined to confirm or deny if there is a pending investigation.