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Public warned against land sale scams3 min read

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Acting Commissioner of Lands, Alan McNeil is warning the public against scams involving the sale of land in Solomon Islands. This comes after a fake Ministry of Lands letter was presented to him this week.

“This letter does not have an official Ministry letterhead, yet it purports to be from the Ministry of Lands. There are a few tell-tale signs that it is a fake” he said. “Firstly, it is dated 14th July 2020, and we’re not even there yet. Next, the signature is illegible and a name and title do not appear, and the Ministry stamp has the incorrect postal address. Finally, the land is being purportedly sold by someone who is not the registered landowner” McNeil clarified.

A ”Sale and Purchase Agreement” for this particular land indicates that nearly $800,000 has already been handed over to the purported seller by the unsuspecting buyer. “Regardless of what deals have been signed and money handed over, this land cannot be transferred because the legitimate registered land owner has not agreed to sell the land” McNeil stated.

The Acting Commissioner said he is aware that this one case is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of land sale scams, and advises people who are looking to buy land to be very careful of conmen who pretend to be landowners.

“To be sure you are dealing with the legal registered landowners, you are advised to check the map of the area to be certain of the legal description of the land and there are no squatters on the land, then visit the Registrar of Titles office to find out who is the legal owner of that land parcel. A copy of the land register will cost just $30 which is a good investment” McNeil said.

“Don’t necessarily assume a copy of a land register shown to you is a genuine one, as these can be altered, instead visit the Registrar of Titles office yourself for a genuine certified copy” he added.

“You are also well advised to seek the assistance of a qualified and reputable legal practitioner to help you through the transfer process, as purchasing a property is likely to be the biggest investment most people make, so it is worth the extra cost” he further added. McNeil also warns the public to not believe in stories such as someone claiming they should be the owner, or that there is a prior agreement for the land to be transferred to them.

“The bottom line is to deal with the current registered owner of the land or their appointed representative, nobody else, and also be wary of caveats that have been registered against the land title as these can freeze any attempts to transfer the land title for some time” McNeil said, adding, “and don’t pay for the land until the time the transfer is actually registered, not before”.

Another common story is people purporting to be customary landowners seeking to sell land or retrieve rentals or compensation over registered land which is often owned by the government. “An example of this is Nine Ridges Community which I visited a couple of weeks ago, and where we are carrying out surveying to ultimately offer the residents of that community fixed term estates. Some in that community have been approached by people purporting to be the customary owners of that area, but that whole area is owned by the government” McNeil said.

In summary, the Acting Commissioner of Lands advises prospective land buyers to be very cautious and not to believe everything they hear or read in terms of land ownership. “Due diligence with the relevant authorities and competent legal practitioners will go a long way in preventing financial losses on fake land transfers” said McNeil.

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