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Curbing excesses of fraudulent estate agents

By Gbenga Salau
11 November 2018   |   4:20 am
In December 2017, an estate agent, Wasiu Mufutau was arrested by the Lagos State Police Command for defrauding three persons who needed his services.

In December 2017, an estate agent, Wasiu Mufutau was arrested by the Lagos State Police Command for defrauding three persons who needed his services.

After his victims inspected the apartment, Mufutau tricked Temidayo Babarinde to pay into his account, the sum of N300, 000, while Chigozie Frank also paid N500, 000. Peter Okosun deposited the sum of N200, 000 in the same account as well.

The total sum of N1m paid into Mufutau’s account by the trio was allegedly for the rent and sundry fees in respect of the accommodation they inspected.

After the payments were made, Mufutau vanished into thin air. Consequently, the accommodation seekers were unable to access the flat. They were also not able to reach Mufutau as he remained incommunicado, with his mobile phone lines switched off.

They reported the case to the police individually, but the police was alarmed that the same person defrauded the three persons, who were not aware of their individual experiences before then. Babarinde, Frank and Okosun were lucky that Mufutau was later arrested, after the police intervened.

By all standards, the threesome was considered lucky because many Lagos residents are scammed of huge sums of money daily in similar circumstances by dubious persons parading as estate agents. Most times, the victims never get refunded.

Segun Badmus is one of such unlucky ones. After he inspected an apartment, which met his taste, he paid all prescribed fees promptly and was to get the keys to the apartment a day or two after payment. The day never came and the scales began to fall off his eyes when he severally tried to reach the agent at the agreed time for collection of keys.

With the agent’s mobile phones permanently off, he reached out to the landlord, who promptly denied knowledge of any agent, or the lease of any part of his structure.

Badmus ran to the bank where he made payment, asking them to place an embargo on withdrawals on the account, but was told it was too late. He was rather advised to report the matter to the police, which he did.

He later alleged he was told to part with as much as 40 if the amount was retrieved. He turned down the condition.
Till date, he has not been unable to retrieve the money.

Segun Adeniji, another victim of fraudulent estate agents, who also reported his matter at the Alagbon Police Station, Lagos, backed out when he was told by officers that the N350, 000 rent, which he paid was too small for them to track. This was after officers at Idimu Police Station inspected the property in question, before directing him to take the matter to Alagbon for prompt investigation.

For years these fraudulent estate agents have perfected their modus operandi of pretending to have in their stables, apartments to rent to interested members of the public, only to turn around and defraud them. Most times, these so-called estate agents do not even have the authority to lease the apartments that they lay claims to, and even advertise as being vacant.

Unfortunately, even with very frequent cases of accommodation scam reported in the media, and a lot of the so-called estate agent docked for fraud, many other such characters are still much around, just as many continue to lose huge sums of money in attempts to secure accommodation.

Chairman, Lagos State Chapter, Association of Estate Agents in Nigeria, Adeolu Ogunbanjo, said his association has severally engaged the state government on the need to intervene and regulate the sector effectively in view of the rampant activities of fraudulent estate agents.

More so, the association deemed it appropriate to interface more with the Lagos State Real Estate Transactions Department (LASRETRAD).

Maintaining that it was imperative that government does more than paying lip service to the regulation of the sector, Ogunbanjo insisted that government really needs to look into the sector, considering that five out of 10 cases involving estate agents bordered on fraud.

“For us, we are looking at a situation where government must ensure that anybody that indicates interest in the practice must go through some form of tutelage before being licenced to practice,” he said.

But contrary to the general notion that the police have not been very helpful in the fight against fraudulent estate agents, Ogunbanjo begged to differ, maintaining that the police have been helpful in tracking and apprehending some fraudsters parading as estate agents.

He also informed that when investigations are completed and monies involved retrieved from the fraudsters, it is only 10 per cent of the total sum involved that is deducted by the police.

In providing insight into how activities of these fraudsters could be checked, a security expert, Colonel Hassan Stan-Labo, advised government to sanitise the practice.

According to him, the association should be organised in such a way that quacks among them are not allowed to operate smoothly without being detected since there are quacks in every profession.

Stan-Labo equally suggested that the association must be deliberate in coming down hard on quacks and fraudulent persons parading as estate agents.

He said apart from holding monthly meetings, and having a list of registered members, which the public should deal with, each member, especially those within the same area of operation should acquaint themselves with one another so that when any new face shows up he/she would easily be spotted.

The security expert urged accommodation seekers to do due diligence before parting with hard-earned resources, whether they have inspected the apartment or not.

“Since we are all aware that estate agents are not owners of the property that they lease, we must always insist on seeing property owners, do serious background checks, including taking private visits to the apartment to verify the real identity of the owner before making payments. All efforts should be made to ensure that once payment is made, possession of the property is equally taken,” he said.

At a recent stakeholders’ meeting with estate agents, the government said it was compelled to check the trend due to public outcry, and as a result of the surge in cases of dubious persons parading themselves as estate agents.

Even though the government did not specifically state how it intends to go about executing this task, some residents were, nonetheless elated about the decision.

They, however, urged the involvement of other stakeholders including the police and banks in order to effectively track these criminals, and retrieve funds involved at whatever level of transaction.

The Ministry of Housing, Lagos State is yet to disclose specifically, how the government intends to check the excesses of these fraudulent estate agents and fraudsters.