Cape Town - A Weekend Argus investigation has uncovered an alleged property fraud syndicate operating in the Delft area where unsuspecting would-be buyers have been duped into purchasing houses which are not for sale, losing hundreds of thousands of rands in the process.
The alleged syndicate involves people who pose as estate agents and property sellers as well as a registered attorney.
A Bellville resident, whose identity has been withheld to protect her, told how she had raised a loan in order to buy property she had seen advertised online on Gumtree in March.
The 25-year-old teacher said, according to the advert, the house was on the market for R130 000, an amount she could repay in a few months as opposed to taking a home loan over 20 or more years.
Her plan had been to buy the property and build rental flats at the back for extra income.
However, she said she was now left with the loan repayments and no property.
A woman who took her to view the advertised property had allegedly claimed she was a relative of the owner.
After seeing the property and agreeing to buy it, the teacher said she and her partner had been taken to meet Pamela Tsengiwe of Tsengiwe Mbeleni Attorneys in Long Street, where they signed a memorandum of agreement of sale.
The buyer said she had been introduced to the owner of the house, Mcebisi Dlungwana, shown a copy of the property title deed, the seller’s ID and given details of an account into which she needed to deposit the money.
She said she paid Tsengiwe R3 000 cash and electronically transferred R97 000 into an account she believed to be the seller’s. The sale agreement she signed at Tsengiwe’s offices states that R30 000 was payable when the property was transferred into the buyer’s name.
“I asked Tsengiwe for her trust account details to deposit the money into but she advised me to pay into the seller’s account,” the young woman said.
“I was hesitant but I trusted her. Everything looked legit, her offices, the contract and the title deed,” she said.
However, our investigation revealed the account the buyer thought belonged to the seller was that of a Gugulethu resident who allegedly had been asked by a syndicate member to allow them to use it to transfer the money.
The account holder told Weekend Argus a friend had asked to use his account as a conduit for funds.
According to this man’s bank statement, R97 000 was transferred on Sunday March 26, the same day the seller signed the contract. The money was immediately transferred into other Capitec bank accounts. He said he was paid R4 000 for the use of his bank account.
Another account holder, known to Weekend Argus, said she had been asked by an estate agent to receive an amount of R26 000 into her account which was withdrawn on the same day. She was paid R500 for the use of her account, she said.
Weekend Argus visited Delft and found the house the buyer said she had viewed was not the same as the one detailed on the seller’s title deed and the sale agreement. The viewed house is at the corner of Anaboom and Mango Streets but the house stipulated in the agreement is further down Mango Street.
Dlungwana denied ever putting his house up for sale.
He said he was not part of the agreement and had not instructed anyone to sell his house.
Tsengiwe denied any wrongdoing.
“We confirm that we were contacted by the parties and instructed to draft a deed of sale for an immovable property that Mr Dlungwana was selling,” the law firm said in a statement responding to questions.
According to Tsengiwe, the firm’s mandate had been to draw up a deed of sale which included verifying the seller’s authority to sell the house, to conduct a Financial Intelligence Centre Act verification and to draft the deed of sale according to the wishes of both parties.
“Thus the deed of sale between the parties was properly drafted on our side and we did our due diligence in the matter,” said Tsengiwe.
Asked why the firm had not informed the buyer of the process to follow to ensure the transfer of the property and why it had not informed her of its change of address, a Tsengiwe representative, Kwezi Canca, who came to Weekend Argus’s offices, said the firm had vacated its offices in Long Street because of unaffordable rent and had been unable to leave a forwarding address as it had not had one until recently.
The buyer “never instructed us to transfer ownership into her name, this is a separate transaction with its own costs”, the firm’s statement read.
* Names of account holders and of the buyer have been withheld as they are witnesses in a fraud case under investigation by the SAPS.
Bank clients warned to beware
Capitec Bank has defended its fraud detection technology after it was notified of an apparent syndicate prying on unsuspecting property buyers in Delft.
Weekend Argus alerted the bank after a property buyer who is a Capitec Bank account holder complained that she had lost R100 000 buying a house in Delft that it later transpired was never on sale.
According to the newspaper’s investigation, a Capitec account was used as the primary account where the buyer of the property had to transfer the money. As soon as the funds were received, they were transferred to several secondary accounts and withdrawn.
Capitec spokesman Charl Nel said: “As per our records, we were only made aware of the matter when we received the communication from the Weekend Argus.”
He dismissed perceptions that the bank’s systems were easy for fraudsters to navigate.
“Such scams are a problem within the industry. We do have fraud-detection tools in place which help us detect accounts which will be potentially used for the aforementioned purposes.
We have been able to successfully (protect) accounts which were going to be used for fraudulent purposes without any losses being suffered by our clients.”
With regard to the Delft house, Nel said: “The account which received the funds has been stopped as well as any other accounts which funds were transferred to. We are also going through these accounts to see if we can detect any other accounts which will be used for a similar purpose.
“However, it must be noted that if the activity on the account does not fall within the parameters set to detect such fraud, it makes it more difficult to pick up on such fraudulent accounts. Further, in instances such as the current matter, we do face challenges when the clients do not report the matter timeously,” said Nel.
The bank continuously cautioned its clients about scams, he said. “We send out communications to clients via e-mail warning them of scams and also on our social media accounts.”
How the racket works
The syndicate identifies a house which is legitimately on the market in the area and place an advert on Gumtree.
One of the syndicate members poses as an estate agent and takes an unsuspecting buyer for viewing.
The "estate agent" takes the buyer to their lawyer to sign a sale agreement.
The buyer is urged to pay the lawyer in cash for consultation and initiation of the transaction.
In the presence of the lawyer, the buyer is instructed to deposit the sale amount to the seller's bank account.
The buyer pays the money into a Capitec account.
The money is immediately transferred to various other Capitec accounts and withdrawn.