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Friday Jan 24, 2014

Standard Bank victim of property fraud

In a sophisticated case of fraud and identity theft, fraudsters with an intricate knowledge of the property system have transferred ownership of a luxury home in Johannesburg without the knowledge of the owners or new 'owner' and defrauded Standard Bank to the tune of R11.8 million.

137 Empire Place, Sandhurst.

The fraud, conducted in March last year when ownership of the property was transferred at the deeds office, was only discovered when the owner received an offer to purchase the house and discovered the house had been sold and transferred out of her name.

The property had been on the market for about a year at an asking price of R26m.

Every step of the transaction was fraudulent, including the offer to purchase, loan application, City of Johannesburg rates clearance certificate, SA Revenue Services (Sars) transfer duty receipt, transfer documentation and mortgage loan application.

Ross Linstrom, a Standard Bank spokesman, confirmed a criminal case of fraud and impersonation had been laid with the SAPS in October last year, but declined to comment on the progress made in apprehending the perpetrators because the investigation was at a sensitive stage.

Linstrom said this fraud was 'quite unique', but warned customers with unbonded properties to frequently check their property information on the deeds register.

Sandra Post, the owner of 137 Empire Place, Sandhurst in Sandton, launched an urgent application in the North Gauteng High Court and obtained an order last month cancelling the fraudulent deed of transfer; reviving the previous authentic deed of transfer and declaring Post the owner of the property; cancelling the continuing covering mortgage bond over the property; and ordering the registrar of the deeds office to give effect to this order.

The property had been unlawfully transferred into the name of Roodepoort-based orthodontist Lourens Pretorius.

In an affidavit, Pretorius denied signing the offer to purchase the property or that it was his signature and initials on the offer to purchase.

He further denied signing any transfer documents, applying for a mortgage bond at Standard Bank or signing a debit order instruction for a Standard Bank account. The application was unopposed.

Penny Chenery, a director at Hogan Lovells, formerly known as Routledge Modise, who acted for Post, said a 'terrifying' aspect of this case was that the transaction seemed legitimate in every respect.

'All the paperwork was handled correctly and passed through every check, including those at the bank's loan department and the deeds office,' she said.

An investigation conducted by Chenery revealed a covering mortgage bond was registered simultaneously with the registration of the property to Pretorius for R11.8m and an additional amount of R2.95m.

Both the owner and supposed new purchaser of the property were the victims of identify fraud, with their signatures being forged on all the relevant documents and the identity documents of the 'purchaser', with a false photograph, presented when the R11.8m loan agreement was signed with the conveyancing attorneys appointed by Standard Bank.

Chenery said the R11.8m loan granted by the bank was withdrawn piecemeal in cash from the bank account until nothing was left.

The fraudsters were represented by a non-existent firm of attorneys who impersonated a legitimate conveyancing attorney from another province, Douglas Tatham.

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