Protect Your Investment by Learning How to Spot Fake Pay Stubs

Most prospective tenants are honest when filling out their rental applications; unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Many landlords have discovered that applicants included falsified information in their applications. Fake pay stubs are one of the most common falsified documents rental applicants submit, so it’s important to know how to verify their authenticity. To help you, we’ve compiled some steps you can take to spot these phony documents and improve your screening process. Please note that this is not intended as legal advice but for information only. Laws may vary depending on your location.

Fake Pay Stubs: What Are They and Why Do Applicants Use Them?

Fake pay stubs are falsified documents that can be used to provide proof of income for loans, credit cards, or rental units. These documents can be easily purchased online and often look very realistic, which can make it difficult to realize they’re fake.

closeup of a young man checking a bill, a budget or a payroll with a calculator, filtered effect

Most landlords require some form of income verification during the application process. Income verification is important to determine whether an applicant is financially stable enough to pay rent consistently. If an applicant isn’t employed, or they don’t make enough money to cover the rent, they may be tempted to provide false documents. This can also happen in cases where the tenant wants to add someone to the lease who isn’t employed or makes less money than their share of the rent.

Common Red Flags for Fake Pay Stubs

There are many different types of documents that can be falsified online, including checks and pay stubs. Here are a few of the most common red flags you should keep an eye out for:

  1. Letters and numbers are switched

Many fake pay stubs will have switched letters and numbers in the text. For example, you may see the letter “O” in place of the number “0”. In a lot of fonts, this discrepancy may be very subtle; in others, it may be obvious. Since this isn’t a mistake a professional accounting service would make, it’s a definite indicator of a falsified document.

  1. Inconsistencies

All the information on the pay stubs should be consistent with the other personal information provided by the applicant, unless there’s a good reason for it to be different. Here are some things to look for:

  • The tenant’s name should be spelled correctly and listed as their legal name
  • Gross income should line up with net pay; all the math should be accurate
  • The address of the applicant and their workplace should be accurate and spelled correctly

If you notice any incorrect or inconsistent information, request a secondary form of income verification, like TSCI’s tenant verification service.

  1. The numbers are rounded

Most paychecks aren’t rounded numbers, especially after taxes and other deductions, so if you see a pay stub for an even $3000, you’re likely dealing with a fake pay stub.

  1. Documents that look unprofessional

Most businesses use accounting firms or software, so their pay stubs will have a standardized look to them. If you notice the pay stubs have any of the following issues, they’re likely falsified:

  • Strange-looking or mismatched typeface
  • Blurry font
  • Misaligned text
  • Half-printed information
  • Gaps between information
  • Smeared or messy text
  • The wrong type of paper
  1. Look at the Metadata

If you receive a digital copy of the applicant’s pay stubs, you can look at the metadata (also called EXIF data) to find out where it came from and when it was created. You can look at the metadata through programs like Adobe Photoshop or use online tools. Although you won’t necessarily be able to spot a fake pay stub this way, it’s always a good idea to check the metadata if something doesn’t seem right.

Spotting Fake ADP Pay Stubs

ADP is a large payroll provider, so you’ll likely see some ADP pay stubs during your time as a landlord. The good news is that ADP offers a relatively easy way to verify whether pay stubs are legitimate. All ADP checks have a nine-digit routing number on the bottom. You can do a search with the Federal Reserve Department of Financial Services to find out if the routing number is real.

However, there’s a good chance you’ll be looking at the statement that was attached to the check, rather than the check itself. Look to see if the bottom of the statement is perforated; if not, it could be a fake pay stub. If you’re still having trouble figuring out if the pay stub or check is real, you can contact ADP directly to verify its authenticity.

Best Practices for Income Verification

It’s important to verify that applicants make enough money to cover the cost of rent—but what should you do if you’re concerned about fake pay stubs?

One of the best steps you can take is to request at least two forms of income and employment verification. Having several documents to look at can help you spot discrepancies and keep applicants honest. Here are some of the documents most landlords use to verify income:

  • W-2 tax form for employees
  • 1099 tax form for contractors
  • 1040 tax form
  • Bank statements
  • Employment verification letter
  • Social security statements

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are varying rules from state to state on which types of documents can be used for income verification. In most cases, you’ll be able to request the above documents as long as the applicant agrees to tenant screening. Before requesting any documentation, be sure to read up on all applicable state and local laws.

Regardless of the types of documents you accept for income verification, you should also verify the applicant’s employment; this will confirm the business is real and that the applicant is actually employed there.

Comprehensive Tenant Screening Packages

Whether you’re interested in employment verification or a background check, tenant screening is an essential step that will help protect your investment. Tenant Screening Center offers screening packages that include credit, eviction, criminal history, and residential/employment verification ranging from $29.99 to $49.99. Available online 24/7, our reports are hassle-free and easy to use—and the cost of the screening is deferred to the applicant. Order your tenant screening package today, or contact us at (800) 523-2381.

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