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: firstname.lastname@example.org