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Digital push at Registro opens door to crooks

by Garland M Baker on September 5, 2011

Expats and everyone else holding assets in Costa Rica should check the documents pertaining to their properties as soon as possible to be sure everything is in order. Asset thefts are on the rise because of the digitalization of documents throughout the country.

The problem is that as the government institutions digitalize the workers are omitting important information from the original documents. One could wake up one morning and find the house stolen.

The new service provided by the Registro Nacional is great.  It is a fast way to get all kinds of Costa Rican certifications and other types of documents without having to travel to the Registro Nacional.  The service is relatively inexpensive, and most institutions will take the printed certifications without questions.

The system has hit a small roadblock because the Sala IV constitutional court has prohibited the Registro from accepting money, and online delivery of documents is on hold. The temporary ruling involved an appeal from a lawyer who objects to paying the money.

But either online or when issued in person, the digitized documents in many cases are just wrong.  The information in them is not always accurate because in either case the documents come from the digitized data base.

Take for example a certification of ownership and powers of attorney.  The Registro Nacional document may show no limitations when in fact there are very specific limitations.

An old power of attorney may have given someone very limited rights, like the right to negotiate an easement with a water utility.  But because of Registro omissions, the individual could appear to have total control of the asset, an expensive property. That’s enough control to sell it.

This is dangerous because unscrupulous souls are using the incorrect information and transferring assets without owners even knowing about it.  Is the Registro Nacional responsible?  Of course, but one would probably be dead by the time the lawsuit ends to get the asset back.

What every expat should do today is get a current copy of their information at the Registro Nacional regarding the assets and check it with the actual records.  If it is wrong, they should immediately contact a legal professional — a trusted legal professional. The keyword here istrust — to fix the problem.

Believe it or not, the people at the Registro do not like to mingle with normal people, just with those in the legal profession.  There is one great department called reconstruction — this department fixes Registro mistakes — and they are all good people and will talk to human beings.

It is not just assets like property changing hands illegally.  Other things are disappearing too, like easements and trust agreements, to name a few.
A paperless world would be great.  Digitalization and cloud computing also are super. However, these wonderful innovations are giving the bad guys the tools they need to steal.

The Registro Nacional is trying to make a rojo,a thousand colón note, like everyone else.  Soon everyone will have to pay for most of the documents they provide.  However, in the institutional haste to make money, the Registro is hurting individuals by providing information in some cases that is just downright wrong, and there is no really good system to rectify problems.

Here is the situation:  Tomorrow, someone finds someone else has misused incorrect information to steal his or her house.  The Registro Nacional says go to the prosecutor’s office to file a complaint.

The prosecutor is busy with other matters of more importance, and one has to wait or beg to file the charge.  Once the paperwork is done at the prosecutor’s office, one goes back to the Registro and files the papers.  Since the Registro closes early, it will probably be closed.  Next day, one goes back and tries to find the correct person to handle the situation.

Well, once that person is found, he or she does not like these kinds of problems and to get them to move into action is like moving an elephant.   It is not their house.  Well, the story continues through tons of paperwork and talking to people that really do not want to hear about a Registro mistake.

The only way to go is to find a lawyer who knows his or her way around the Registro and moves fast.  If the mistake is not caught before theft advances into a resale, one gets caught up in the Costa Rican quandary of who has more rights:  The innocent third party – usually the crook in this case, or a friend of the same – or the victim.

Third party cases go to civil court and are full of years and years of legal mumbo jumbo.  Victim cases go to criminal court, which at this time is almost a complete meltdown.

The sad truth is if the crook gets to use inaccurate documents before one finds out, the honest soul will probably lose the asset or die in the process of trying to get it back.

In summary, expats should compare important documents that are published in the new digitized system with  the originals.  If the the new version is wrong, expats should get the error fixed by a trusted – again the key word here is trusted – legal professional.

The urgency of this matter to the Costa Rican community— and especially expats, because they often are singled out in swindles — is paramount.
There is another strange situation expats should understand when the Registro again begins issuing documents online.

Most online documents and certifications are issued printed in blue. But the Registro supplies a download that can be printed multiple times.

The original document is created in portable document format (PDF) in the color blue, and most institutions expect them to be printed in blue.  Unless they are in that color as prepared by the Registro Nacional, many clerks and aides think they are not valid.  If one is planning to use one of the documents created by the Registro Nacional Digital, the document should be printed in blue to avoid problems.

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