Victims of land fraud, fooled by forged documents, continue to pile up despite increased awareness of such crimes, the Colombo Fraud Bureau (CFB) says. Most frauds are set in train when owners in a hurry to sell their property leave copies of deeds, plans and personal documents with brokers to expedite the sale, CFB Director [...]


Mean tricks to fool property buyers

Don’t leave deed copies with brokers, police urge

Victims of land fraud, fooled by forged documents, continue to pile up despite increased awareness of such crimes, the Colombo Fraud Bureau (CFB) says.

CFB Director Superintendent Rohan Premaratne

Most frauds are set in train when owners in a hurry to sell their property leave copies of deeds, plans and personal documents with brokers to expedite the sale, CFB Director Superintendent Rohan Premaratne said.

Dishonest brokers used the documents to forge false deeds that showed them to be the land owners, and then they illegally sold the property, earning millions.

“Even land salesmen fall for such scams as the culprits use copies of original documents to show that they are the true owners of properties,” Superintendent Premaratne said. Forged identity cards and deeds are common in frauds.

Fortunately, cases of land fraud based on forged documents have decreased from last year – 146 this year compared to 180 in 2017, he said.

“Likewise, other cases of cheating have decreased from 988 in 2017 to 523 this year”, he said (see graphic). Superintendent Premaratne urged continuing caution, saying the damage done from land fraud significantly affected people’s lives.

One audacious instance of fraud occurred in Angoda, Mulleriyawa, where two blocks of lands were illegally sold not once but twice over.

The property’s real owner is a young girl studying abroad who had received the land through a deed of gift.

A local who knew that she was abroad hatched a plan to illegally transfer ownership of the property to himself by claiming she had sold him the land.

The man, Adambarage Yohan Shaminda Alius, submitted forged deeds to the Land Registrar, with false signatures and identity card copies, to claim the young woman had transferred the two blocks of lands to him.

The issue became more complicated when the people who bought the land from Alius then sold it to another party.

The father of the girl became aware of wrongdoing when the new owner began to build a wall to enclose the two pieces of land.

The father confronted the new owner, who said he had bought the land from another owner for Rs. 6 million. The land documents bore forged signatures of the young woman.

The father said his daughter was abroad and had not sold her property, and took the case to the CFB.

The CFB found problems not only with the signature but also in the identity card numbers and photographs on the documents. Investigations are continuing.

Detailing another case, Superintendent Premaratne warned people not to leave legal documents or copies to the hands of brokers.

He said in June a broker had illegally sold a 10-perch block close to Colombo for Rs. 3 million.

Using a false name, Jayatissa, the broker placed an advertisement in the newspapers claiming his wife’s land was up for sale for Rs. 3 million.

A resident of Pannipitiya was interested and contacted “Jayatissa” by phone.

“During the phone conversation the Pannipitiya resident was told the land was being sold in a hurry due to financial reasons,” Superintendent Premaratne said. This story was designed to allay suspicions about why the land was available at a low price.

Following the call, the buyer met Jayatissa at the property and expressed his liking for the land.

He was given forged copies of a deed and plan and showed the copy of the deed to his lawyer who did not detect anything faulty.

Superintendent Premaratne explained that Jayatissa had produced false identity cards and forged grama sevaka certificates to convince the buyer he owned the land.

“We learned he had even brought a woman to a private bank at Kirulapone during the money transaction to secure the deal,” Superintendent Premaratne said.

The sale went through. When the new owner visited his property, however, he learned from the neighbours that the person who had sold him the land was not the owner.

When the new owner traced the actual owners he learned the person who had made the sale was a broker employed by the owners to sell the land.

The broker had asked the genuine owners for a copy of the land deed and plans and used the documents passed himself off as the owner. To secure the owners’ co-operation he had given them Rs. 10,000 which he claimed was an advance payment from an interested buyer.

SP Premaratne said there were instances where abandoned private properties are illegally registered under the names of other people, and such illegally registered properties are used to obtain money from finance companies.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) said increasing complaints are being received over house and land frauds and the sums involved went from Rs. 5 million to Rs. 350 million.

The CID is investigating some 75 land fraud cases around the country.

An officer said recent reports have come in of land sales companies engaging in fraudulent sales of houses that did not belong to the companies, often picking properties left by people living abroad.

“The agents in most such land sales make sure customers pay an advance payment for the house and land, promising to show them the land deed but not doing so,” the CID officer said.

After the customer makes the payment the fraudsters quickly leave the area.

Such cases have been reported from Dehiwela, Mount Lavinia, Battaramulla, Athurugiriya and other areas.

“Government servants, teachers and retired people looking for houses and land are victims of these frauds and lose their life earnings,” the CID official said.

Another scam was perpetrated by people living near expressways whose land had been acquired by Road Development Authority (RDA).

“They collect the compensation from the RDA and then sell their properties. Years later, the new owners, who have built houses on the land, face eviction when RDA construction work starts,” the officer said.

Another ruse involved criminals claiming ownership of land through forged documents and then going to the district courts to subdivide the property. The court declarations are then used as alleged proof of ownership of the subdivided property.

The CID official advised buyers to double-check ownership when buying property and to keep photographs of the land salesman. Owners going overseas are advised to employ security to protect their land.

When buying hotel apartments, people should look for the longevity of the previous resident’s stay and double-check the seller’s identity details and the grama sevaka documentation on the house owners.

He also advised buyers to be cautious when buying land online as many such websites were rigged and used for cheating.

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