Currently a criminal band is stealing or buying the properties they hire someone else to steal, pretending to be the legitimate owners. Only this year, by the end of the month of October, we learned of 10 cases, which give us an average of one per month.

Fake passport

The Nosara American Project was conceived in the early 70ss by a group of entrepreneurs and their collaborators. From the original estates, an endless number of properties were segregated, which have been object of repeated sales and re-sales. The aforementioned has caused these lands to be highly sought and well appraised, not only by investors and expatriates, but by unscrupulous people who purchase them illegally to be immediately sold (fortunately they are a small group, a minority that have their time borrowed, as these cases are well documented in the hands of the Administration of Justice).

The global economic crisis seems to exacerbate the number of crimes, and real estate frauds are no exception. As lawyers we have noticed the increase because we have been linked to real estate traffic for more than ten years. For example, between the years 2005 and 2006, I had three cases of property theft. Up to this date our office is actively involved in 16 criminal cases.

I must say that the different types of frauds with which I have had to deal come in all kinds of colors and flavors. The way of committing the crime varies according to the skills, sophistication and resources of the scam artist; in this article the intention is not to mention all of them because the list is long, but only a few of the most common ones. The main targets of the scam artists are the lots that have not been built on; in fact there is no registry of stolen lots with houses.

Different ways of committing crimes that were performed with properties at the American Project

Illegal Change of the Board of Directors (Fraud with Legal Books)
A group of criminals illegally obtains a duplicate of the legal books of a company that owns a land.  With this action and after having obtained the legal books of the company that have the overall appearance of being unique, the criminals start introducing false information in these, indicating who the owners of all the shares are, and with that, they proceed to perform a protocolization of the assembly where they managed to make the change of the Board of Directors and to grant a power of attorney to another person.

Thus, the person who was appointed as proxy of the company will subsequently go before a Notary Public to grant the sale, leaving its rightful owners with no land.

Impersonation

In a particular case, four persons identified themselves with a false passport in the name of the legal representative of the company, and they appeared before four different notaries, leading each of them to an error, in order to proceed with the sale of three of the properties, and to grant a mortgage in the amount of $50,000 against the other property. These counterfeited passports were so convincing that they were even used to cash a check at a national bank. To date, the true owner was stripped of the properties, in addition to the falsification of the owner’s identification document.

Real passport

Resurrect deceased persons
Unfortunately, in our country there are notaries that agree to be used for these cases, in which they attest to the appearance of persons that have died in a country abroad; therefore, the National Register is unable to verify it, registering the purchases for unscrupulous persons.

Moreover, there are also cases in which people that are not in the national territory allegedly “appear” before notaries to sell their properties. But it is clearly demonstrated through the records of migrations of the National Migration Directorate that they did not enter the country for the date of execution of the deed.  Currently, we have three cases known by the Prosecutor’s Office.

Falsehood with non-existent people
Usually, the criminals have a person in their group who knows the area very well and use the person to carry out the “search” of properties that have not been visited, maintained or serviced.  Once that information is verified, the deed of sale is made with the help of a notary public, who is an integrant of this network of criminals.

Use of False Documents and Deception to Judicial Authorities
Another way of illegally appropriating a land is through the preparation of false documents such as promissory notes or bills of exchange, among others, raising the possibility of a legal charge against the owner of the property, and therefore, possible foreclosure.

The myth of publicity registration and registered broker service
Some persons (including lawyers, unfortunately) use registration publicity as the only way to comply with due diligence. The truth is that it is one step, but not the only one. Legal safety for a real estate transaction based only on the information of the Register is a myth.

It is important to bear in mind that many relevant details do not reach the surface of an effective and responsible due diligence, based on the information of the Public Register only, such as false signatures, precariousness, rights of heirs, powers badly made, unregistered leases, overlaps or double titles, among others. Buyers should hire the services of topographers and registered brokers or inspect in situ the land of interest and should not leave the responsibility only to the lawyer.

Time to recover the property
The time it takes the illegally stripped owner to recover the property varies according to the circumstances, but experience indicates that a legal proceeding can last from two to eight years, depending on the complexity of the case. Often due to loss of patience, the stripped owner reaches a settlement in exchange for the return of the land. Unfortunately, this decision to stop pursuing the scam artist promotes impunity.

By Javier F. Chaverri Ross, with the collaboration of
Melissa Ramos Ross and Johnnathan Elizondo Reyes, Voice of Nosara


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