Inside America's Mortgage Nightmare

Many distressed borrowers aren't sure who holds their mortgage. It's a symptom of the chaos in America's troubled mortgage system, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.

"I had Wilshire and they sold my loan to Bank of America," said one woman.

"They brought it from the original people that had our loan," said another woman. "I can't remember who that was."

The frenzy of mortgage lending during the housing bubble has now turned into a recordkeeping nightmare, with major banks admitting they did not follow the rules for handling paperwork on hundreds of thousands of foreclosures. The problems may affect all 50 states.

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"How can there be people like that who just do stuff without even being conscientious of what the consequences might be?" asked homeowner Cecilia Vignoli.

In Florida, Vignoli learned the foreclosure documents on her home were signed by Jeffrey Stephan, a GMAC processor who admitted he signed 10,000 such papers every month, swearing he'd reviewed each one in detail when he had not.

"That's not a mix-up," said attorney Margery Golant. "That's intentional fraud."

Golant is trying to help Vignoli save her house. Vignoli's foreclosure is one of those halted as at least four big banks suspending foreclosures in much of the country as they try to sort out the paperwork.

"They claim that what they are trying to do is hold these borrowers to their agreement, and yet they are breaking the law," said Golant.

It used to be that the papers tracking mortgages were easy to find, filed at a county recorder's office. But more than a decade ago big mortgage lenders set up their own alternative system.

The system is called MERS, the Mortgage Electronic Registration System. Instead of filing papers at a local courthouse, mortgage changes are simply registered inside the MERS computer. But with no official paper trail, lenders are now scrambling to produce documents to prove they have the right to foreclose.

The resulting halt on many foreclosures is bringing new uncertainty to the already fragile housing market by clogging the system.

"The concern is what else might they not be doing that they're supposed to be doing?" asked Rick Sharga of

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.