A number of criminals are using the real estate industry for money laundering and other nefarious actions but there are ways that you can protect yourself. These words of advice and warning came from Senior Superintendent Lindon Greenidge of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) Fraud Squad as he spoke to members of the Association of Real Estate Agents (AREA). He was addressing members of AREA at their Best Practices for Real Estate 2019 symposium at Queens Hall.
"This is something that you all need to be careful with. I know that you all have a duty to report any suspicious activities to the financial investigations department or unit so be careful also of persons making purchases and they coming with large amounts of cash."
He said in such instances agents should get the person's job letter and verify it adding that some people will go as far as to have a friend pretend to be their employer. He also advised them to be wary of even manager's cheques when accepting payment for property.
Greenidge stressed that it was very important to keep documents used to verify property carefully protected as this could help if there is ever to be an investigation into Land Fraud. He shared a story about his community where three people had produced a deed for the same parcel of land. Two of them had been tricked and the matter was now before the court. One of them had already begun to build a home and was forced to stop. This is why it is very important to check the person's ID and signature before making any major purchases.
"There are generally three categories of documents that will be received in the course of transactions. The actual document, an original document and a photocopy. When the document (forged) comes into our possession we engage the services of the Forensic Sciences Centre. Nevertheless there are a few tips that can be employed by the layman to determine if the document is a forgery."
He said one of the tell tale signs that someone was producing a fake ID was by using distraction when it was time to sign an important document. The person may try to sign very quickly or would be looking at the ID signature while signing to try and copy it.
"A person's body language is something that you need to pay attention to. If a person comes to you and they are genuine they would be relaxed although fraudsters maybe also be relaxed and well dressed because they have to convince you."
Greenidge revealed that even fake copies of regular cheques are becoming more difficult to tell apart because the same type of paper and markings are now being used. Always look for signs of tracing or broken points on a cheque before accepting it, he continued.
An economic outlook was given by Specialist Consultant Indera Sagewan-Alli who said that the next two years may be good for the real estate industry because of many new construction projects throughout the country but added that she was very worried for the economy beyond that time frame. Alli said that she believed that the government should focus more resources into agriculture because there was more potential for growth. The model of government needs to move away from dependency if the economy is truly to recover, she said.