The media has reported various high-level cases of fraudulent transfer and sale of properties. There are many more unreported cases. It is interesting to note that fraudulent land transactions are happening even after the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning conducted reorganization and clean-up exercises in the lands registries. Fraud cases have increased to the extent that people are afraid of purchasing land in certain areas of the country.
Most fraudulent transactions are executed through stolen or forged titles and identity theft. Identity theft is where a fraudster pretends to be the registered owner of the land.
Property owners should actively guard against fraud. Some of the ways of protecting property are:
- Conduct Frequent Searches – Searches confirm among other things the details of the registered owner of the land. They also help to establish whether the land records are available at the lands registry. A land owner should be concerned when the land records are missing as this indicates that there could be an ongoing transaction or activity relating to the records.
- Check the Rates and Rent Accounts – Land rates and rent accounts usually bear the name of the registered owner of the land. Once the land is transferred, the account details are changed to reflect the transfer. A land owner should frequently check these accounts to confirm that they bear his details and that no other person has made payments into these accounts.
- Have Someone Stay on the Land – Most prospective land buyers visit the property prior to committing to a transaction. With someone staying on the land, it is difficult for a fraudster to sell such a property as they would be unwilling to take the prospective buyer to the site.
- Keep Your Title Documents Safely – Title documents should be kept securely e.g. in safe deposits to avoid theft.
- Check the Gazette Notice regularly – It has been said that some fraudsters apply to the registrars for new titles in pretense that original titles are lost. The registrar must publish a notice on the gazette notifying the public of the issuance of a new title with respect to the land.