With owners of expensive lots kept away from Costa Rica because of COVID-19 restrictions, organized property fraud rings have enlisted corrupt notaries to steal properties.
At least 50 public notaries have been collaborating with criminal groups to illegally transfer properties or to forge documents to allow them to be used as collateral for bank loans and credit cards, La Nación reported.
From October 2020 to March of this year, nearly 100 complaints were filed in the capital of San José alone. The crime groups target regions with high-value real estate, such as the Pacific coastal areas of Guanacaste and Puntarenas.
According to Walter Espinoza, director of Costa Rica
’s Judicial Investigation Agency (Organismo de Investigación Judicial- OIJ), criminals scope out neighborhoods to find real estate that seems empty or abandoned, then speak to neighbors to glean information about the property and its owner.
The corrupt notaries then perform an illegal transfer of property, after which it can be sold or used as collateral.
“We have identified several organized gangs,” Espinoza said. “There are even subgroups within the groups that have established functions. For example, there are notaries, intermediaries, and impersonators, among others.”