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In 2020, 33 notaries from San José Province, were prosecuted for acting as lawyers and made false authorization to perform
acts in legal affairs such as property owners changes.  - A.M. Costa Rica illustrative photo -

Property fraud cases are increasing, authorities say

Published Wednesday, April 7, 2021

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In the last three years, the Public Ministry has detected an increase in cases of people who lose their properties as victims of gangs who are involved in fraud in property registration, reported Miguel Ramírez López, Prosecutor of Fraud and Cybercrime Office.

According to Ramírez, this type of fraud forced the ministry to define a specific strategy to attack this type of crime. The approach has yielded results. In 2020, 33 notaries from San José Province, were prosecuted for acting as lawyers and made false authorization to perform acts in legal affairs such as property owners changes.

“Around the issue, we are finding crimes such as ideological falsehood, identity theft and fraud, among others. For this reason, a series of notaries have already been identified and are being investigated as part of a list of goals of the Public Ministry,” Ramírez said.

According to the Costa Rica Crimes Law, or Codigo Penal, the Property Registry Fraud, known as a fraudulent transfer of property, is a crime of stealing property, usually land, from its true owner utilizing false transfers of property registered in the National Registry.

These crimes generally occur when criminals falsify the signature of the true owner. They pretend to be the genuine owner of a property to rob the true owner of their assets.

The tricks used by those notaries to remove the name of the owners of their registered properties (such as lots, farms or houses) include making fake procedures such as property owner transfers, donations and sales. All these were carried out illegally and using fraudulent documentation that is presented to the authorities, the specialist said.

"We have found the figure of the public notary as members of gangs, dedicated to searching for properties that are unregistered, or have not been registered for many years, or non-registered owner changes or that belong to foreigners who have left the country," Ramirez said.

"There are also cases of notaries who have been fooled by the gang to carry out irregular registration procedures," he said.

To address this situation, the ministry launched an improved policy for criminal prosecution that includes methods of criminal analysis and work between institutions such as the Judicial Investigation Organization, the National Property Registry and the National Directorate of Notaries.

According to the Prosecutor, in addition to foreigners, criminal organizations have among their preferred victim's elderly people, who are in a vulnerable situation.

Given this reality, the specialists call on the public to carry out actions to prevent this crime, such as making at least three reviews a year of the registration status of their properties in the Property Registry of Costa Rica.

The review of the conditions in which the properties are (such as limits, dimensions and owners) can be done by visiting the Property Registry web page.

"We have to be more cautious, not only the property owners but also public organizations and their employees," Ramirez said. "We must request trusted lawyers and notaries to review the condition of our properties."

When a property owner suspects a possible crime in the property registration, a complaint must be immediately filed at the Public Ministry and Judicial Investigation Organization.

Acting quickly could allow the authorities to stop the attempt or illegal registration movement and prevent the person from being robbed of his property, added the specialist.

A case that was highly covered by news media in Costa Rica about alleged fraud for theft of property happened last year when agents from the Judicial Investigation Organization, of the station in Puriscal District, arrested two men on suspicion of the crime of Property Registry Fraud.

According to the agents' report, the arrested men are surnamed Castro- Vargas, 51, and Muñoz- Arias, 47.

Both men are linked to two cases of alleged property fraud, which happened in April and May 2020.

According to the information provided by the agents, Castro-Vargas is suspected of using fake identification documents and posing as the owner of two properties. With the fake ID, the suspect requested a lawyer for a mortgage on these properties and to obtain cash.

After the lawyer managed to process the mortgage, it is alleged that the suspect obtained $25,800 in April, plus an additional $34,500 in May.

According to the agents' report, when the real owners of the properties realized their lands were mortgaged, they contacted the lawyer who processed the due diligence at the National Registry. They also initiated a respective complaint at the Judicial Investigation Organization.

The agents reported that, according to the investigations, it is alleged that Castro-Vargas was the one who requested the mortgage process from the lawyer, while the second suspect Muñoz-Arias was the one who allegedly took the money obtained in the two mortgages.

In July 2020, Castro-Vargas was detained at his home located in Pozos de Santa Ana district, while Muñoz-Arias was detained at his home in the Escazú district.

Raids on both their houses resulted in agents seizing documents considered to be important evidence for the investigation.

The two suspects were taken to the cells of the Public Ministry where they were interrogated by the judicial agents and later, a judge ordered pre-trial measures against them.

What cases have you heard of property fraud in your community?  We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to

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