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Tips, resources and advice for landlords and property managers

How Can Landlords Spot Fake Application Documents from Tenants?

Articles related to tenant screening

As a landlord, you know that proper tenant screening is essential for a thriving rental business. The process involves reviewing various documents submitted by applicants. These include credit reports, pay stubs, bank statements, identification, etc.

However, analyzing all these items is easier said than done. Many landlords have received fake credit reports, pay stubs, and other documents from unscrupulous tenants. And these scams are more prevalent than you may think.

Below is a survey from members of Small Landlords of Ontario (SOLO) that illustrates the issue:

Signing a lease agreement with someone on the basis of false or misleading information can harm your rental business. You risk losing considerable rental income if the tenant fails to pay their rent. And your expenses can climb higher if you need to evict them from your property. Therefore, knowing how to detect and avoid fake application documents from tenants is crucial.

In this article, we’ll cover tips to help you identify fraudulent documentation. And we’ll show you how to get the information you need to effectively screen a tenant from an objective, credible, and reliable source.

Why tenants falsify documents – and why it’s so easy for them to do it

Due to ever-increasing living costs, fewer people can afford a home, so demand for rental properties is soaring. As a result, the rental market is fiercely competitive.

Unfortunately, many people looking to rent also lack a solid credit score. Others earn an insufficient income, or their income is inconsistent. And some have a rental history marked by conflict with landlords. An individual with one or more of these characteristics will find it difficult to qualify for tenancy. As a result, they may be motivated to provide false documents to ensure they meet landlords’ criteria.

In addition, it’s never been easier for a tenant to alter or create a document. The technology that allows them to do so is affordable and widely accessible. And it’s growing ever more sophisticated by the day, as the video below shows:

And anyone who lacks the time or expertise to do so on their own can pay someone to do it for them. There’s no shortage of people willing to falsify paperwork for a fee online – and it’s not too difficult to find them:

Common rental application documents that tenants fake

A deceitful applicant can modify or forge various documents. Here are the most common and how to spot a fake.

Credit report

A credit report is a critical document that landlords scrutinize to determine an applicant’s track record with managing debt and bill payments. As a result, the temptation is there for some tenants to submit to you an altered report that presents them in a more favourable light.

A tenant can modify their credit report easily by copying images from sample reports found online and merging them with their own report. Or they can make changes to their report as needed with the aid of software programs like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and Acrobat DC. 

When reviewing a credit report (particularly a scanned PDF document or hard copy), keep an eye out for the following features, which may indicate that the document is fake:

    • Missing pages
    • Cut-off pages
    • Page numbers that are in the wrong order
    • Details like address and name that aren’t consistent with information found on other documentation the tenant provides
    • Inconsistency with the font
    • Glaring spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors

Suppose you’re reviewing a PDF copy of a credit report you’ve downloaded directly from an email. In that case, you can try the following tactic as well:

    1. Open the document and click on “File” and then select “Properties”
    2. Click the “Document Properties” tab
    3. Examine the date and time to see if someone has modified the document since it was first created

However, these details aren’t secure (meaning someone can remove them), so they may not be available for you to view.

Sometimes it can be next to impossible to determine whether a credit report is legitimate. For this reason, purchasing a credit report from a reputable third-party source is the best way to ensure you don’t get scammed. It’s never wise to accept a credit report from a tenant directly.

SingleKey offers a tenant credit report and background check that can be ready for you to download in as little as five minutes.

Pay stub

Asking for a recent pay stub is standard practice to verify an applicant’s income. But, like a credit report, this is also an easy document to fake.

Numerous online applications allow tenants to create a fake pay stub, usually for a tiny fee. Some tools offer a pre-made pay stub template, allowing a tenant to enter their address, company name, salary/hourly wage, pay date, and other details. These tools accurately calculate source deductions and other payroll data, too, which helps to make the pay stub look authentic.

Here are some features that may indicate a fake pay stub:

    • Net pay is a whole number, like $2,100, which after accounting for deductions, is unlikely
    • Lack of details commonly found on pay stubs, such as the employer’s address
    • No company logo
    • Incorrect math – for example, the net pay is too high relative to gross pay
    • Glaring spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors
    • Misaligned writing or numbers
    • Inconsistent, unusual, or blurry font
    • Details on the stub don’t match what’s found on other documentation provided by the tenant

Fake pays stubs created in a rush or with low-quality software will contain many red flags and stand out. However, others may look remarkably legitimate. Therefore, it’s always worth contacting the employer listed on the stub to confirm the applicant is a current employee.

It’s also wise to ask the applicant to supply you with a few months of recent bank statements. Even if they indeed work at the company noted on the pay stub, they may still have altered the document to inflate their earnings. Examining their bank statements will allow you to detect discrepancies between the earnings on the stub and the money deposited in their bank account. You can also verify if their pay dates correspond with the payment frequency noted on the pay stub.

As with a credit report, the best way to check whether a pay stub is genuine is by obtaining a credit and background report from a third-party source.

Bank Statement

Next to a pay stub, a bank statement is the best document you can examine to verify someone’s income. Unfortunately, a tenant can falsify one quite easily, as instructions for creating fake bank statements are readily available online. 

Here are some signs that may indicate a phony bank statement:

    • Inconsistent font type and size
    • Sloppy spacing and alignment of numbers, text, and other elements
    • Incorrect math – for example, the beginning balance from one statement doesn’t match the ending balance for another
    • Bank logo and other trademarked symbols don’t match what’s on the bank’s website
    • Inconsistent payment amounts and pay periods – most people who work a standard job have consistent earnings paid out bi-weekly or monthly
    • A large number of transactions with round numbers

When asking an applicant for a bank statement, ask for those from the previous 30 to 90 days. It’s best to ask for three months’ worth to obtain sufficient insight into their deposits and payment patterns. Ideally, the statements should be from one of Canada’s Big Five banks. If not, you may need to scrutinize the details more closely.

First, look for suspicious deposits and withdrawals and examine any inconsistent transactions. Is there an abundance of transactions but no bank fees charged? Are there overdraft fees despite a high positive cash balance? Be sure to reconcile the transactions to confirm that the totals match the balance on the statement.

Next, compare the personal information found in the statements to what the applicant provided in their tenant application form – it should all match perfectly. For example, their take-home pay should align with the monthly income they stated they earn (less the source deductions).

Do the same cross-examination with the pay stub. Does the applicant receive payment from the employer listed on the pay stub? Do the deposit dates on the bank statement correspond with the payment frequency noted on the pay stub?

Driver’s Licence

A driver’s licence is one of the most common pieces of government-issued ID tenants will present to you. As with paper documents, a tenant can obtain a replica of the driver’s licence issued in their jurisdiction. These fake cards contain features that make them almost indistinguishable from the real thing: 

    • Holograms
    • Laser print photos
    • Embossment
    • Microprint
    • Scannable barcode

So, are there clues you can look for to determine whether a driver’s licence is genuine? Yes – but you must be able to examine the ID in your hands. Here are two tips:

    • Examine the thickness of the photos. If it’s thicker than the immediate surrounding area, someone may have placed a second photo on top of the original.
    • Assess the consistency between the numbers and letters. If the colour or thickness of some characters differs from the others, someone may have done a modification.

In addition to the above, it helps to become familiar with the various security features unique to licences issued in your province. You can then quickly spot any anomalies.  

For example, a driver’s licence from Ontario contains special inks visible only under ultraviolet light and raised lettering on the driver’s license number and date of birth.

Of course, you can also obtain a soft copy of a driver’s licence from a third-party source that issues credit and background check reports on tenants. You can then compare the details from this report against those on the driver’s licence provided by the applicant.

Our Final Thoughts

Reviewing documents from prospective tenants, like credit reports, is inevitable if you’re in the rental business. Unfortunately, fraudulent documents are readily accessible to tenants. As a result, you’ll need to be vigilant when assessing PDF files, ID cards, and any piece of paper that comes your way. 

We don’t blame you if this sounds overwhelming – and a massive waste of your time. After all, you’re a landlord, not a detective!

Luckily can bypass the headache of dealing with fake application documents by getting the information you need from a trusted third-party source like SingleKey.

At SingleKey, we understand how vital objective and reliable financial and background tenant information is to landlords. As a result, we’ve created a comprehensive yet easy-to-read Tenant Report that provides you with everything you need to decide whether to approve or decline an application:

    • Credit score and full Equifax credit report 
    • Social media check
    • Public document scan of over 200,000 databases from around the world

Learn more by downloading a free sample report or order one for your next tenant screening. Once you’ve entered the applicant’s information and made your payment, you can download your report in as little as five minutes!

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