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Title deed fraudsters on the prowl, check if you still own your house/stand

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If you own a vacant or an unoccupied property in Zimbabwe my suggestion is verify if you still own that property. With the Zimbabwean property market being dominated by absent buyers, due to over four million Zimbabweans who are now scattered all over the world. Zimbabwe’s fraudsters have found a niche in the market and are now using technology for identity theft and then executing title deed fraud.

Title deed fraud occurs when someone steals your identity, forges your name on a title deed, and takes title to your property. While it may seem that it should be a simple matter to get your home back after becoming a victim of deed fraud, nothing in the law is very simple. The costs involved are high and it is a very stressful process.

In Zimbabwe, forged deeds and fraudulent title transfers are happening far more often than ordinary people believe. Title deed fraud is not a new idea but has been amplified by the use of new technology. This problem has been around for decades, most commonly with vacant properties and especially involving deceased property owners, but is now on the increase due to areas with a large numbers of vacant, unoccupied properties leaving property owners and investors at risk.

How does this happen?

Here’s how it goes down: the fraudster obtains a copy of your title deed from the deeds office. Remember, a Zimbabwean title deed consist of the name of the property owner, and their national identity number. They use these details to embed them on a fake national identity (ID) card which is then produced as proof of ownership to an estate agent.

The agent’s lawyer will verify the owner of the property with the deed office when there is a request for a sale. The details of the deed and the ID details will of course be found to be identical. Using the same ID the fraudster opens a bank account which will receive the proceeds of the loot when a transaction is executed.

With the duplicate national ID and bank account now setup in the owners name, this is then used to sell the house. When the property is then sold to the new owner by the person impersonating the actual owner, the property title deed at the deeds offices are then updated making them the new legal owner. This is done without the owner of the property even knowing.

There are probably some corrupt real estate agents, lawyers and employees at the deeds office who are participants in these criminal activities.

Who is at risk?

If you own or are in the process of buying a property you could potentially be targeted, but some homeowners are more at risk than others. You are more at risk of title deed fraud if:

  • your Property is left vacant,
  • your property is rented out
  • you live overseas
  • your property does not have a mortgage against it
  • your identity has been stolen before
  • your property is not registered with the deeds office.

Savvy fraudsters are able to forge documents, commit fraud, and steal the title deed to your property, sell the property to someone else and reap the proceeds. They sometimes use their fraudulent ownership to access a lending tool and extract the home’s equity, leaving you in debt. There is no better time to check if you still own your property than now title deed fraudsters are on the increase.

By Eng Jacob Kudzayi Mutisi
You can reach him here: jkmutisi@hansole.org


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12 thoughts on “Title deed fraudsters on the prowl, check if you still own your house/stand

  1. Hello techzim sorry this is completely unrelated to the article but I have a small question about prepaid visa cards,Can one receive online deposits from sites like world remit or Payoneer into the cards

    1. I know FBC master cards can receive money from abroad. But if you have a payoneer i think it would be faster to remit the money to yourself.

  2. Good article but you don’t say how people can protect themselves. I think a follow up article will help. I was a victim. Was saved from a very big loss by ZESA of all people.

    Came all the way from diaspora to buy a property in Glen Lorne. Was coaxed into driving to Mashava where the seller purported to stay. Saw the buyer. Went to his lawyer. Deeds and ID checkout. I sent info to my lawyer in Harare to double check with Deeds Office. Everything checks out.

    Asked his lawyer to do an Agreement of Sale. He did not have Zesa since morning. I refused to pay my monies serve for a commitment fee of $5,000 paid to the lawyer on condition seller follows me to Harare to finish the deal with my lawyer who had electricity.

    Paid US$5k drove back to Harare with deed document. My lawyers takes document to Deeds Office they disowned it. Called the seller to come and sign once l had set a trap for him with police. He never called in.

    Went back to the law firm to pick my money lawyer says the guy took the money. How? Why? The little girl could not respond.

    She was fresh from College l just felt pity kuti ndomukanganisira career so l just let go.

    I am more careful now l since bought a property with these long established estate agents. The small ones are extremely dangerous.

    I am

    1. Worrying trends, no doubt deserves more attention. I just want to ask, why did the deeds checkout the first time around? Maybe there is someone at the Deeds Office working with these fraudsters?

  3. The issue is not with deeds office or lawyer or even agent. Its with the Registrars office.. where are the fake ids coming from.. when doing verificationd of documents one checj id sellers ids match with information on deeds.. all they do is make an id with correct info and wrong face… it should be made easier to verify and id..

  4. My estate agent now has finger print identification as part of their documentation. Best use established agents and also due diligence.

  5. I also fell victim to this scam bought a stand in The Grange.
    2 people who purported to be a couple selling this stand were caught, my NOK was contacted by CID, they sent her a photo and was asked if she was able to identify the woman and she told them yes. CID said they will call her to the parade but up to now the CID have not called her. I hear the agent has been going to court but no one has contacted me. I’m struggling to get my money back from the agent.

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