Durban - Identity fraud has started to hit property owners, with properties being sold to unsuspecting buyers and without the real owners knowing about it.
The Daily News has identified eight instances where properties have been sold, and in some the transfer had gone through the Deeds Office, without the knowledge of the true landowners.
In one instance two brothers had paid R165 000 cash for a house, and had done R50 000 in renovations when the real owner returned from his rural home and found renovations in progress.
Brothers Ngcebo and Sandile Ngcobo, of KwaMashu, said they had forked out more than R200 000 buying and renovating an “abandoned” house they had bought from a man who they have since learnt had used a bogus ID when he posed as the owner.
When the legitimate owner, Mbongiseni Ngcobo, arrived, waving proof of ownership, Sandile Ngcobo had been at the scene, and the men had had an argument before they realised what had happened.
Their attempts at trying to find the seller, who at the time appeared to have all the right paperwork, proved fruitless.
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, confirmed that a case of fraud had been opened for investigation, although no arrests had been made.
Sandile Ngcobo told the Daily News he and his brother had used a conveyancer to transfer the property, which they had bought in September, into their names.
“The house was abandoned when we bought it. The doors were unhinged, it was dirty inside, there was rubbish on the floors as well as used condoms,” he said. “We were shocked when this man showed up claiming that it was his house.”
However, the rightful owner denied that his house had been abandoned or that the doors were unhinged, saying that his son had lived there.
“He had got a job in New Germany at that time and was renting closer to his job. The gate and doors were locked,” Ngcobo said. The conveyancer also paid R10 000 owed to the bank and R4 000 owed to the council.
Ngcobo said: “I am not leaving my house or giving anyone any money until police find this man who used my identity to sell my house.”
Sandile claimed the conveyancer, Aesha Ramchunder, should have ensured that the property was unencumbered.
But Ramchunder told the Daily News that all the documentation presented by the “seller” had seemed authentic and that everything had checked out.
“The property was attached to a bond and there was money still owing to the bank. And the bond account number I got from this man checked out with the bank and I paid the outstanding amount and got the title deed,” she said. “He had the water and lights bill. It all seemed genuine.”
Ramchunder said it had not been until the Deeds Office phoned, pointing out an error on the paperwork, that it was discovered that the man who had been given the money did not own the house.
“He was supposed to sign the document that had an error, again, but when we tried phoning, the number did not exist,” she said.
“We went to the address he had provided and he did not live there, he had disappeared.”
In a separate matter, Halalisani Dlamini narrowly escaped losing R70 000 on a bogus property deal.
He had been in the process of buying a plot of land in uMlazi’s V-Section from a man purporting to be the owner, but the fraudster’s eagerness for the transfer of cash into his account made Dlamini suspicious.
“My lawyer insisted on waiting for the transfer to go through at the Deeds Office first and the man who claimed to be the owner kept phoning me saying that he was desperate for cash and would find someone else to sell the land to,” he said.
“I gave him R5 000 cash while we waited for the transfer to go through.”
But Dlamini said when he went to the plot again, he found a man cutting the grass.
“The man said he owned the land and he said his name was Ndumiso Dlamini, the same name as that of the man I knew as the owner, but it was not him,” he said.
Last Friday, the real Ndumiso Dlamini showed the Daily News a photocopy of the ID used to sell his plot, given to him by Halalisani Dlamini. It had his name and ID number – but a different face on it.
Smart ID will help:
The Kwazulu-Natal Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, under which the Deeds Office falls, said it was not easy to provide figures on the number of cases involving ID fraud that had been picked up at the Deeds Office.
“The cases are not categorised; if something irregular is picked up it is reported to the SAPS special units,” spokesman, Sipho Dlamini, said.
* Hawks spokesman, Captain Paul Ramaloko, speaking generally, said ID fraud was very common and syndicates were colluding with Department of Home Affairs employees.
“Some ID documents belong to people who have lost them and syndicates just remove the person’s picture and use another, to commit fraud,” he said.
* Department of Home affairs spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa, said while he could not provide exact figures relating to ID fraud, the department was doing everything possible to prevent it.
“Now with the smart card ID we are confident that ID fraud will be a thing of the past,” he said.
* Bruce Forrest, a conveyancer with Meumann White Attorneys, who was not involved in the Amaqwabe Properties matter, said industry identity fraud was uncommon in the property industry and he had only come across it twice.
* Kalyani Pillay, of the South African Banking Risk Information Centre, said identity theft was a “huge” problem not only in South Africa but globally as well.
“It is a huge problem because it manifests itself in various crimes such as application and card fraud as well as on internet banking,” she said.
* Durban criminal law attorney, Jacques Botha, said 15 years ago, when he was a prosecutor, ID fraud was unheard of. He said that it was on the increase, and he now dealt with a couple of cases every year.