Multiple Ways You Can Lose Your Money, Home or Land to Property Fraudsters
How often have you seen signposts and fences of homes and vacant lots in several parts of Nigeria with variety of inscriptions that revolve around this common theme “This house is not for sale; beware of 419”? Pretty common, I believe. It is unlikely that one wouldn’t see similar inscriptions while walking on a street in Lagos. Property fraud in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria happen on a daily basis. Transacting real estates in Lagos, for example, is likened to walking on a field laced with land mines because every step you take could cost you dearly. In this case your hard-earned money and peace of mind. It could be the 1 or 2-year rent that you innocently handed over to a property fraudster acting as a genuine estate agent. It does not stop there. There are too many of them, including dubious estate developers who collect funds from multiple home-buyers or prospective apartment-renters beyond the numbers of homes and apartments available to sell or rent. You may also found out that the land you paid for few months ago now has a competing owner who has already moved construction materials and equipment to site. Property fraud cases abound in courts across Nigeria. Below are lessons from real life examples of the many ways you could lose your hard-earned money, land, building, and peace of mind to property fraud in Lagos and other cities in Nigeria.
Paying Rents for Non-Existing Apartment: this is unarguably the most common property rental fraud in Lagos and some parts of Nigeria going by the huge number of victims that are affected in individual cases. In a very bizarre case before a Lagos High Court, an individual that claimed to be an estate agent allegedly obtained N21 million in various sums from 81different individuals that were seeking to rent apartments in a single house along Oriola Street, in Alapere, Ketu. According to one of the victims, she and her son visited the property in order to deposit part of the rent, and were told to come and collect the keys to the apartment at a later date. It was during the second visit that they met other prospective tenants who also came to collect the keys to the same apartment.
Buying a Property with Fake Documents: this is one of the most common types of property fraud where a property-buyer is handed a fake or forged documents after parting with large sum of money for a piece of land or building the individual think he or she now genuinely own. These could be a fake or cloned certificate of occupancy (C-of-O), fake survey plan, or deed of assignment. This can happen in different ways. In a one of the cases before the Igbosere Magistrate’s Court in Lagos, a lawyer (Mr. Kole Bello) allegedly conspired with other individuals to illegally sell a property to a businessman using a forged C-of-O of the property, which in reality belong to a deceased owner. In the very elaborate scheme, the accused arranged for an impersonator who presented herself as the owner in attempt to convey the property to the unsuspecting buyer who parted with his hard-earned money, and is now a party to a property fraud case.
Buying a Land with Fraudulently Obtained Documents: a good example of one of such schemes occurred in Abuja with the connivance of a staff of the Abuja Geographic Information Sysytem (AGIS). This individual allegedly forged multiple documents (CAC form, driver licence, international passport of company directors) purportedly belonging to the original land owners in order to collect the original C-of-O, which he then used to facilitate the sale of a 7698.92 square meters plot of land in Jahi District, Cadastral Zone 808, Abuja, to an unsuspecting buyer.
Buying a Land or Property on a Land with Fake Survey Plan: you may ask yourself, “how in the world can a land survey plan be fake?” Well, a good case occurred in Lagos when two individuals that claimed to be surveyors generated multiple survey plans for unsuspecting land owners by using forged stamp and seal of a deceased registered surveyor, Late Victor Okolo. The most important lesson from this incident is that non-genuine survey plans would likely contain non-genuine geodetic data which could jeopardize attempts of land owners to sell or develop the lands in question. For example, the land survey draw tool on this website was used to accurately confirm that a survey plan submitted by a land-owner is fake when the location of the land appeared to be on a body of water, and not at the location claimed by the land-owner.
Unauthorized Sale of your Property: it is possible for a property owner to temporarily loose possession of a property if the genuine documents are used to facilitate a sale transaction without the owner’s knowledge. Although the sale can be challenged in court once the fraud is detected but the experience can be very traumatic for the victims. This type of fraud is sometimes initiated by individuals who are very familiar with the property owner. There are varieties of this scheme; in one of such examples, the fraudster would first declare the original document missing through a “loss of document” notice that is placed in a local newspaper. Thereafter, they would use the notice of loss of document and other forged identification documents to process the release of a new copy of the original documents by the local land agency, which they can then use to sell the property. Different types of documents can be forged by these fraudsters in order to perfect unauthorised sale of properties. These conmen have been found to connive with dubious employees of local land agencies.
Buying a Land with an Existing Owner: this type of fraud is commonly perpetrated by the so-called “Omo-Oniles” who may be members of land-owning families or communities. It appears to be more prevalent in Lagos State than in other states. The fraud usually occur when an undeveloped piece of land that has been sold to a previous buyer is resold to another individual without the knowledge of the first buyer who may turn up at the location of the land to find construction materials and equipment on the site. This type of property fraud can lead to fatal confrontations between thugs or state security forces hired by both parties to force repossession of the land.
Buying Lands that Legally Belong to the Government: nowhere is this more common than in Lagos State where town planning officials aided by state security forces can turn up in the early morning or during work hours, on a parcel of land with buildings, and in tow are bulldozers that are used to tear down fences and entire buildings. It is probably the most costly property fraud because it involves tens to hundreds of victims, who would typically cry out that the land was sold to them by certain families that are claiming historical ownership of the parcel of land. There are too many examples of government demolition of properties in different parts of Nigeria, but Abuja and Lagos would stand out as the property demolition capitals in Nigeria, with Lagos having the edge.
Other similar cases involved land buyers with survey plan in hand, who only found out that they have been scammed when they attempt to do a land search at the local land agency where it is discovered that the land they bought fall within government acquired parcels or land with revoked right of occupancy.
Mortgage and Installment Payment Scam: It is now the norm to see ads that are placed by different property developers promoting the sale of newly planned estates and developments. Buyers and real estate investors should be very cautious because many prospective buyers that parted with their funds with the hope of securing such properties ended up suing the developers, either for non-delivery of the properties or for breach of terms of contracts. In a case before a Lagos court, a developer that failed to deliver a property to a client, who made a down-payment of N4 million, stated that the company wasn’t able to deliver the property as promised because of over-subscription by interested buyers and because of sharp increase in the price of building materials. Apart from refusing to refund the money paid by the client, the developer is seeking a court order for N12 million damages against the client.
Dealing with Fraudulent Government Employees: numerous staff of state governments have been arraigned in court for one land related fraud charges or another. From forgery of documents and signatures to concealment or theft of land documents. They include lower and upper cadre of staff. In a case (Charge No. F/17/2016) before a Lagos Magistrate Court in Igbosere, one Olaide Ibraheem, a 48-yr old senior staff of Lagos State Government in Alausa, Ikeja, allegedly forged the signature and deed of assignment of a bonafide property owner with the intent to present it as genuine. There are good number of similar property-fraud cases before the courts in various parts of Nigeria. The rule of thumb when dealing with government employees or any individual during land transactions is to be very skeptical until you have conduct thorough investigations to determine that you are not dealing with fraudulent individuals or a company with history of fraud. In addition, evidence that an individual or a company that deal in properties has consistent history of breach of contracts should indicate potential problem.
It is obvious that property fraud in Lagos and many cities in Nigeria is a major problem, and that precaution is the name of the game when transacting properties. There are well defined set of rules that property owners, buyers and renters can follow to avoid losing money and life-time investments to property fraudsters who present themselves as genuine estate agents, developers, land owners, and real estate lawyers. First thing is to be well informed and use all available resources to avoid falling victim to these marauders.