4 Tips for Spotting Fraudulent Applicant References

It can be a challenge to find the right tenant for your rental property – especially if you feel financial pressure to fill the vacancy quickly. Fortunately, tenant screenings can help you quickly eliminate tenants who aren’t a good fit and narrow down potential tenants who have a history of being reliable and responsible. In addition to the standard background and credit checks, it’s also a good idea to perform a tenant verification, which includes references from the applicant’s former landlords. A former landlord can fill you in on information that goes beyond the data-driven reports, giving you better insight into what you could expect if the applicant were to become a tenant.

However, it’s important to realize that fraud can occur when applicants supply references. It’s not unheard of for an applicant to ask a friend to fabricate a reference or documents to give them better chances at landing the rental. Maybe the renter severely damaged the unit, or they had other issues they’re trying to hide. According to one report conducted by a tenant fraud detection agency, 22% of applicants submitted fraudulent documents during the application process – this increased by 11% during the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak between March and April last year.

So how can you tell if the information the applicant provided you is false? Here are a few tips to help you decide.

Look into the landlord’s past activity

Conceptual triangular hazard road sign against a stormy sky saying fraud alert

If you’ve talked to the reference on the phone but aren’t sure you believe they’re actually a landlord, try doing an online search for the property owner and the property itself. If the reference is a real landlord, you should be able to find some ads or posts for the rental that prove it’s a legitimate property. If there’s a dedicated website for the rental, check the Wayback Machine to see how long the website has been around. Unfortunately, there are online services that sell websites for fake references; it’s a good idea to check when the website was established.

Social media sleuthing

Social media can also be a good place to do a little sleuthing. Do a search on the reference’s name and see if they have any connections to the applicant. Are they tagged in each other’s posts or photos? This could be an indicator that they’re friends or family members. Do you notice any overlap between the applicant’s profile and the landlord’s profile? Although some landlords have a friendly management style, profile overlap is an indication that this is a personal relationship, rather than one of a landlord and tenant. Keep in mind that some landlords may not have a social media profile or talk about their business on social media.

Familial Interviews

When you’re chatting with the landlord or leasing team, make sure to pay attention to their tone. Do they sound nervous or uncomfortable? Are they able to answer your questions easily? If they seem nervous, it may not be that they’re a fake reference; some people aren’t comfortable talking on the phone, but it’s still something you should take into consideration.

Another thing to pay attention to is their comments. A real landlord will focus on useful rental information. They’ll know if the tenant ever paid their rent late, how much wear and tear occurred at the property, if there were any major damages or repairs, and if there were noise or other types of complaints from neighbors. These are all things that a friend or family member isn’t likely to know. If they provide general statements like, “they were an excellent tenant” without any details, this is a red flag. Likewise, if the person seems anxious to get off the phone, this could also be a sign of a false reference.

Check the ownership records

Most property tax records are public, so as long as you have the applicant’s previous address, you should be able to look up the owner by doing an online search. If the owner listed doesn’t match the name you were given, that could be a red flag.

Let TSCI Save You Time

Although there’s no completely fool-proof method to weed out fraudulent rental references, you can get peace of mind and save time by letting TSCI handle your tenant verifications for you. With over 35 years in the tenant screening industry, we have extensive experience determining the reliability of references. Our tenant verification services are low-cost and a great first step before moving onto credit or background checks. Our tenant verification service includes the following information:

  • The applicant’s current and previous address
  • The length of time they lived at each property
  • Whether the applicant gave proper notice of their intent to move
  • The applicant’s current and previous monthly rent payments
  • Whether there have been any late payments, bounced checks, balances owed, complaints on file, or legal notices
  • Whether the applicant has any pets
  • Whether the applicant would be eligible to re-rent either property
  • Verification of the applicant’s current employer
  • The length of time the applicant has worked at the company, their position, salary, and employment status (full time/part-time)

You’ll receive a form completed with the above details, giving you the information you need to make the most informed decision possible. For more information on this or our other screenings, contact TSCI today at (800) 523-2381 or purchase your tenant screening reports online.

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