If you recently bought a property, are you sure it is properly registered in your name?
Well, there might be need to verify this with the Department of Deeds, Companies and Intellectual Property.
Of late, several people have been duped by a sophisticated network of criminals that fraudulently sold them properties whose owners had either relocated or died.
The Deeds Registry is currently streamlining its procedures through the introduction of a new digital system that is meant to curb corruption.
The system will create a paperless office and facilitate the electronic storage of deeds.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Permanent Secretary Mrs Virginia Mabhiza said this will improve efficiency and curb fraud.
“Automation is already in progress and the system will allow for stronger security and easier retrieval of files,” she said.
There has been an alarming increase in fake title deeds over the past three or so years.
A syndicate made up of bogus estate agents, lawyers and officials from the Deeds Registry is believed to be behind the scandal.
Corrupt or bogus police officials are in some instances roped in.
“The Office has so far discovered 24 fake title deeds for individually owned properties. Three fake company-owned title deeds have also been unearthed,” said The Registrar of Deeds, Ms Elizabeth Nyagura.
“The figures are for Harare only. Scanning of historical records is also underway in other towns and cities, but we are still to verify and make public our findings.”
While some fake documents have been discovered through the ongoing exercise, others have been discovered through due diligence by clients.
“We are also discovering some of the fake title deeds when a client brings a copy of the document he or she would have received from the purposed owner for verification.
“Most of these cases bear imitated Registrar’s signature or forged victim’s identity, leaving the other details of the original documents unchanged,” added Ms Nyagura.
According to reports, more than 10 suspects, including two lawyers, were arrested for forged deeds in Harare last year.
Naturally, the police are concerned and urging the public to be cautious.
“We have a number of fraud cases involving tampering with title deeds. The public needs to be vigilant when buying properties by following all the necessary verification steps to avoid falling prey,” said Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi.
Ms Nyagura added that they are also mulling introducing a Property Alert Service.
Under the system, a subscriber or property owner will receive an email or mobile notification to alert them each time there is an attempt to sell or mortgage their property.
“Our legislation has already been amended to enable the establishment of an electronic registry as well as having a securitised paper for those documents that still need to be done on paper. It comes with advanced features and will reduce the risk of imitations,” she explained.
Plans to amend Section 9 of the Deeds Registries Act, which gives the public access to title deeds and allow them to make photocopies, are also afoot.
The provision was largely made for banks and companies, but criminals are also taking advantage.
But the amendment will limit the application for copies strictly to the owner under strict guidelines.
“We have held several public awareness programmes to disseminate information to the public on how to identify fake title deeds and guard against fraudulent transactions. Our staff has also been trained on how to identify fake deeds and what to do when they discover one,” added Ms Nyagura.
The Maphosa siblings from Old Luveve, Bulawayo, were last year left counting their losses after buying a US$40 000 property with forged title deeds.
The property was said to be owned by Mlibazisi Ndebele.
However, a month later, the Deeds Office discovered their title deed was fake through the ongoing verification exercise.
It was discovered that the property was in actual fact owned and registered under the late Martha Mathe.
The duo was arrested, while Ndebele, who claimed ownership of the property and received payment, has since vanished.
In Harare, Martha Gwashure is currently embroiled in a battle to recover her late father Isidore Gwashure’s company after losing directorship to a ring of fraudsters.
Martha’s father died in 2003, leaving behind a company and a farm to his son MacDonald.
The late Gwashure’s attorney and the two siblings handled the estate as combined executors.
Years later, the attorney relocated, leaving Linda Banda as his replacement.
As fate would have it, MacDonald also died in 2019.
The grieving family did not promptly follow up on the estate.
A year later, Banda mysteriously withdrew from the estate and the family appointed Martha as the new executor.
It is then that Martha later discovered that the directorship of the company had been changed into a new name without any of the family members’ knowledge.
“We waited for some time but Banda did not do much and it got us all frustrated. It was only after I visited the Deeds Office that we discovered our title deeds had been tampered with.
“I also discovered that some crucial files were missing. We then tried to get in touch with Banda for clarification but she was no longer available. Up to now, no one knows where she is,” said Martha.
Spirited efforts by this publication to get in touch with Banda were also in vain.