Types of Property Fraud in India for Foreign Investors

What Are the Biggest Property Frauds in India for Foreign Investors? Property fraud in India can manifest in numerous forms, posing significant challenges to international investors who may not be familiar with local legal frameworks and market practices. These scams not only threaten financial investments but can also lead to complex legal disputes.

Foreign investors from the USA, Canada, Dubai and the UAE often find the Indian real estate market appealing due to its dynamic growth and the substantial returns it offers. However, navigating this sector requires a keen awareness of the potential frauds, particularly the various types of property fraud prevalent in the region. Understanding these risks is essential for safeguarding investments and ensuring legal compliance.

Types of Property Fraud in India

The most prevalent types of property fraud include title discrepancies, illegal possession and duplicitous land deals, where the authenticity of property titles is manipulated or completely forged. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), real estate-related frauds have shown a steady increase, reflecting the growing complexity and allure of such schemes in a rapidly expanding market. Investors, especially those from foreign markets like the USA, Canada, Dubai and the UAE, must navigate these challenges with a comprehensive legal strategy to mitigate risks and protect their investments.

Title Fraud

Title fraud in India is a prevalent type of real estate scam where the seller deceives the buyer into purchasing a property with unclear ownership or title. Property fraud in India is often committed through forged documents, false ownership claims or impersonation of the legitimate property owner. It particularly targets unoccupied, deserted or under-construction properties, making it challenging for buyers to detect until they attempt to sell the property or face legal complications. 

Foreign investors are especially vulnerable to title fraud in India due to their limited familiarity with local laws, regulations and property market dynamics. Foreign investors may suffer substantial financial losses due to their reliance on intermediaries and lack of direct oversight. 


A striking example of this was reported in Gurgaon, Haryana, where a plot valued at INR 40 crores was illicitly sold for just INR 6 crores. In this case, the perpetrators altered official records and used forged documents to execute the sale, targeting a property owned by a non-resident Indian who was less likely to be on the ground to oversee the transaction. [1]

Illegal Land Use and Zoning Violations

Illegal land use involves utilizing a property for purposes not permitted by law or zoning regulations. This could include constructing unauthorized structures, such as residential buildings in commercial zones or commercial establishments in residential areas or using land designated for agricultural purposes for industrial activities without proper authorization. Foreign investors may unknowingly invest in properties with illegal land use, believing they are purchasing legitimate assets. However, such properties can face legal repercussions, including demolition orders or fines. 

Illegal land use and zoning violations have significant impacts on both property value and legal compliance. Properties with such violations often face reduced market value due to associated risks and uncertainties, leading to decreased demand and limited financing options. Rectifying these violations can be a lengthy and expensive process, involving legal proceedings, obtaining retroactive approvals, or even demolishing unauthorized structures. 


In Vasundhara township, Ghaziabad, authorities discovered over 5,000 multi-storey buildings. Prompted by numerous complaints, a committee was formed by the UP Housing Board. The ongoing survey identified the illegal constructions, prompting potential large-scale demolitions as per government directives. It was emphasized that such illegal constructions negatively impact essential facilities like water, drainage, and parking. [2]

Fake Listings and Rental Frauds

Fake listings and rental fraud are prevalent issues in the Indian real estate market, particularly in its rapidly growing urban centres. These scams typically involve the advertisement of non-existent properties for sale or rent. Scammers often create convincing fake listings complete with photos and detailed property descriptions, which they post on popular real estate platforms or classified websites. Unsuspecting buyers and renters are then lured into paying advance deposits or rental fees before they have a chance to visit the property.

The consequences of such scams extend beyond financial loss; they can delay the investment plans of foreign investors and significantly complicate the process of securing legitimate housing or investment opportunities. Due diligence, including verifying the authenticity of listings and dealing directly with reputable agents or platforms, is essential to avoid these pitfalls.


In Bengaluru, a software engineer recently was scammed while searching for a rental property online. Attracted by a seemingly perfect listing, the engineer engaged in communication with the purported landlord, who convincingly portrayed the property’s availability and suitability. However, after transferring Rs 64,000 as a deposit, the engineer discovered the harsh reality: the property didn’t exist, and had become a victim of a fake listing and rental fraud. [3]

Legal Framework and Protection Against Property Fraud

India’s legal framework provides protection against property fraud, designed to safeguard both domestic and foreign investors. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) specifies criminal penalties for various fraud-related offences, including dishonest or fraudulent removal or concealment of property and making false statements in transactions (Sections 421-424)​. 

For foreign investments, India has liberalized regulations, easing FDI norms across various sectors to attract and secure foreign capital. The protection extended to foreign investors is further reinforced by bilateral investment treaties that ensure fair and equitable treatment, along with protection against expropriation without adequate compensation. Here’s an explanation of each point concerning the legal framework and protection against property fraud in India, with a focus on foreign investors:

Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 421-424

These sections of the IPC address the criminal aspects of property fraud. Section 421 covers fraudulent or dishonest concealment or removal of property to prevent its distribution among creditors. Sections 422, 423, and 424 further elaborate on these crimes, including dishonestly preventing debt from being available to creditors and fraudulent execution of deeds or transfers. 

These legal provisions ensure that any party involved in concealing, removing, or dishonestly transferring property to defraud others can face criminal charges, providing a strong deterrent against fraud​.

Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA)

This act is a cornerstone in protecting the interests of homebuyers and enhancing transparency in the real estate sector. RERA mandates that developers register their projects with a Real Estate Regulatory Authority established under the act. It ensures that developers disclose project details, including the project plan, layout and government approvals status to the public. This act helps foreign investors ensure the legitimacy of their investments and provides a mechanism to address grievances against developers.

Consumer Protection Act, 2019

This act protects consumers against unfair trade practices and deceptive advertisements in the real estate sector. It provides a redressal mechanism through the establishment of consumer courts that can handle cases quickly. For foreign investors, understanding that there is a legal recourse available in the event of being subjected to misleading marketing or fraudulent practices can be reassuring.

Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs)

India has signed BITs with many countries, providing foreign investors with protections against expropriation (the seizure of property by the state) and guarantees of fair and equitable treatment while investing in India. These treaties often include provisions for international arbitration, offering a mechanism for resolving disputes between foreign investors and the Indian government​​.

Land Title Insurance

While still not very common in India, land title insurance is gaining traction. It provides coverage against financial loss from defects in title to real estate, including those due to fraud. For foreign investors, purchasing title insurance can add an additional layer of security, protecting against potential legal issues arising from title disputes.

Steps to Verify Property Authenticity

Checklist for Due Diligence for Indian Real Estate:

  • Property Inspection:

  • Evaluate the physical condition of the property.
  • Identify any environmental concerns or hazards.
  • Title Search:

  • Review title deeds to ensure clear ownership.
  • Investigate any encumbrances, liens or legal disputes..
  • Legal Review:

  • Examine contracts, agreements and permits related to the property.
  • Assess any legal risks or liabilities associated with the property.
  • Financial Analysis:

  • Review financial records, including property taxes and insurance.
  • Analyze rental income, expenses and potential cash flow.
  • Market Analysis:

  • Assess local market trends and property values.
  • Consider factors affecting future appreciation or depreciation.

Local real estate agents and legal counsel play a pivotal role in guiding investors through the intricacies of property transactions. Their knowledge of the local market and neighbourhoods enables them to offer valuable insights into property values, market trends and investment opportunities. Additionally, they facilitate due diligence for Indian real estate, connect buyers with reputable service providers and assist in negotiating favourable terms.

India’s Real Estate Market: Attracting Foreign Investors with Growth Potential

In 2024, India’s real estate market is experiencing a surge in foreign investment due to economic reforms and infrastructure development. Key metropolitan areas like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore stand out as prime investment destinations, offering opportunities in both residential and commercial sectors, making India an attractive destination for global investors. [6]

With India’s real estate sector projected to reach $1 trillion by 2030, driven by urbanization and a growing middle class, it presents an attractive opportunity for high returns. Despite challenges like complex regulations and land acquisition issues, foreign investors can capitalize on the demand for affordable housing and commercial spaces. Initiatives like the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) and relaxed FDI norms aim to attract foreign investment. Despite hurdles, navigating the market with a long-term perspective and local expertise can unlock significant opportunities for foreign investors. [7]

In 2023, India’s real estate sector experienced a significant surge in investment inflows, reaching the highest level since 2020, totaling $5.4 billion. The office sector accounted for the majority of these investments, capturing a 56% share. Foreign capital, predominantly from Canada and Singapore, constituted 78% of the total real estate inflows, with increasing contributions from Asia-Pacific countries. With continued robust economic fundamentals and technological integration, investment activity in India’s real estate market is expected to remain strong in the coming years. [8]


Investing in Indian real estate offers various opportunities for foreign investors, but it comes with its share of risks, including various types of property fraud. Understanding these risks and taking proactive measures to mitigate them is crucial for safeguarding NRI property investments in India and ensuring a successful venture in India’s dynamic real estate market.

For foreign investors looking to navigate the complexities of real estate investments and looking for legal help for property fraud in India, seeking expert legal guidance is essential. A. Agarwalla’s expertise in foreign direct investment and  Indian property laws for foreigners can provide invaluable support and insights. Contact us today to ensure your investments in Indian real estate are secure and successful.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is title fraud, and how does it affect foreign investors in Indian real estate?

Title fraud involves deceiving buyers into purchasing properties with unclear or fraudulent ownership titles. Foreign investors in Indian real estate may fall victim to title fraud when purchasing properties that do not have legitimate ownership documents, leading to legal disputes and financial losses.

2. What are common forms of misrepresentation in property transactions in India?

Common forms of misrepresentation include falsifying property details, such as area measurements, amenities, and ownership status. Foreign investors should be cautious of misleading information provided by sellers, agents or developers and verify property details through independent sources.

3. How can foreign investors safeguard themselves against real estate investment risks in India?

Foreign investors can safeguard themselves against real estate investment risks in India by conducting thorough due diligence, verifying property documents, engaging reputable legal counsel and staying informed about common fraud schemes. It is crucial to be vigilant, ask questions, and seek professional advice to mitigate the risk of falling victim to fraudulent practices.

4. What is the significance of conducting a verification of property titles in India before purchasing property?

Conducting a verification of property titles in India is essential for foreign investors to verify the ownership history, legal status and any encumbrances associated with the property. This helps mitigate the risk of purchasing properties with disputed or unclear titles, reducing the potential for property fraud in India.

5. What are some common tactics used by scammers to commit land fraud in India, and how can investors protect themselves?

Scammers may use tactics such as fake title deeds, forged documents, impersonation of property owners and unauthorized alterations to property boundaries to commit land fraud in India. Investors can protect themselves by thoroughly examining documents, conducting site inspections and verifying information with legal experts.

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