Technology is both a blessing and a curse to the leasing process. Tenants are able to find your property and apply online in a matter of minutes. At the same time, they are able to locate fake income documents, or even assume a fake identity to apply with.
Given advances in technology, landlords need to be aware of ways prospective and current tenants are utilizing technology in ways that negatively impact the landlord. Landlords also need to strengthen their tenant screening processes.
One of the most important parts of the tenant application process is verifying income, as it directly correlates to your tenants ability to make timely payments. How are you screening prospective tenants' income? If you’re just relying on paystubs provided by the tenant, you will be shocked to read this article. Prospective tenants can obtain fraudulent pay stubs for as little as $10 online. In doing some digging for this article, and to arm ourselves with the right information to properly screen your tenants, we found several local residents advertising fake document services publicly on social media, dozens of websites offering these services, and endless options on gig sites such as Fiverr. Recently, we’ve seen an increase in fraudulent documents submitted with applications. We’ve seen applicants applying with an invalid social security number, fake driver’s license, bogus landlord references, and phony paystubs. We joke in our office that we’re detectives, but it does take serious investigative skills to determine which documents are not real.
To help you out, we’ve come up with the top 10 ways to spot a fake paystub.
- Unprofessional appearance with typos and misspelled words.
- Review personal information for inaccuracies or inconsistent information. Does all the information match what the applicant has provided?
- Font inconsistency and misalignment. Check for different fonts, typeface, blurry lines or numbers, and alignment issues. All of these are signs a stub has been altered.
- O’s are used instead of zeros.
- The math just doesn't add up.
- Inconsistent payroll periods and pay dates vary. Example: 14 days and then 18 days. Companies always have consistent pay periods of equal lengths. Also, remember 10/1-10/6 is actually a 7 day payroll period, however, many tenants creating these documents will go for 10/1- 10/7 without thinking.
- Numbers are perfectly rounded to a whole number, as most paystubs rarely have a rounded number. While salaries can be a rounded number, it’s never a nice whole number after taxes. Example: $1,500 instead of $1,498.07.
- Same employer but providing different paystub formats or inconsistencies between the two from a same employer. Or a different employer with the same type of paystub. We’ve seen multiple applicants “working” for the same company provide check stubs that showed minor, but obvious, alterations.
- Lacks basic professional details that you would see on a typical paystub, like the applicants name, address, company, last four digits of a social, etc.
- Lacks deductions like taxes, insurance deductions, social security deductions, and gross pay. Paystubs will also list this information in multiple places so look for inconsistencies in these areas as often times they are not all edited.
A quick note to renters here: using fraudulent documents is fraud and is punishable by law.
It’s tough to determine the validity of a paystub. Some smaller companies are not as professional, and self-employed applicants provide all types of income verification. Because of this, we recommend a number of ways to verify what is provided. One of the most secure ways to do this is to verify the paystubs match deposits by comparing bank statement deposits. Another good way to verify income is to ask for the applicant's direct supervisor and make the call to the business line to verify employment. Privacy laws require the applicants written consent, so we obtain this as part of our application process so there are no unnecessary roadblocks. Because of the widespread use of Google phone numbers, it’s not wise to contact the employer at the number provided as those who provide fake paystubs often provide a fake reference as well. We never call personal references for prospective renters because these people listed will only provide a positive reference.
So how do we verify the validity of an applicant? We actually had a DIY landlord call us the other day, and it was obvious to us she had been duped by a prospective tenant. The answer is complicated and we use our experience to weed through applicants who are not being truthful.
First, ask every prospective tenant who will be residing in the house and what animals they will have with them. Don’t assume the applicant will provide this information on the application, even though it asks. We partner directly with TransUnion to provide further identity verification including name and social security match when pulling credit and background checks. This is an important tool that can raise a red flag nobody can deny. The credit application also lists previous employers and addresses. We cross reference all documents submitted from the applicant to look for inconsistencies in dates, addresses, and information provided, as well as employment verification provided. We often use social media to verify information provided and to snoop around when things don’t add up.
Our screening package also includes an eviction search. If a tenant is being evicted, they will often leave that reference off their application or lie about their current residence. We've also seen current landlords lie about tenants to get them out of their property. Also, because they haven’t moved out yet, it’s harder to get an accurate landlord reference to include how they left the property. Because of these reasons, it’s always best to collect multiple landlord references if possible as we find the previous landlord to be most reliable.
Combine these tools to spot fake paystubs with a thorough screening process and you’re much more likely to place a solid tenant in your property!