How to Spot Fake References from Renters Like a Pro

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How to Spot Fake References from Renters Like a Pro

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Reputation can be everything these days. From trending This Person is Over Parties on Twitter, people getting “cancelled,” to “getting out the receipts” for past bad behavior, it all shows that you need a good rep to keep your business going. It’s not all bad news, however, because your applicants need a good reputation, too. That’s where the references come in. You ask their previous landlords what they were like as a tenant and that helps you make an informed decision. It’s also what makes fake references so dangerous.

According to Daniel Berlind of Snappt, since “since August of 2019, we have detected that 22% of our customer applicants have submitted fraudulent financial documents during the rental application process. Fraud increased by 11% during the beginning of the COVID outbreak from March to April.”

So, how do you weed out the liars?

The Landlord’s Past Activity

You talked to them over the phone, but now you need more information. Yes, you need to google search the landlord, and then the property.

hands on keyboard with search bar

If you’re doing a friendly little search online, one thing that should pop up is a few ads: has this landlord posted the address to the typical places people search for rentals? Is there even a Craiglist posting? Or Zillow? There should be a trail that shows this is a legitimate rental property. Even if this was a first-time landlord, they are bound to have some remnants of their attempts to fill the vacancy.

Reputation can be everything these days. From trending This Person is Over Parties on Twitter, people getting “cancelled,” to “getting out the receipts” for past bad behavior, it all shows that you need a good rep to keep your business going. It’s not all bad news, however, because your applicants need a good reputation, too. That’s where the references come in. You ask their previous landlords what they were like as a tenant and that helps you make an informed decision. It’s also what makes fake references so dangerous.

According to Daniel Berlind of Snappt, since “since August of 2019, we have detected that 22% of our customer applicants have submitted fraudulent financial documents during the rental application process. Fraud increased by 11% during the beginning of the COVID outbreak from March to April.”

So, how do you weed out the liars?

hands on keyboard with search bar

The Landlord’s Past Activity

You talked to them over the phone, but now you need more information. Yes, you need to google search the landlord, and then the property.

If you’re doing a friendly little search online, one thing that should pop up is a few ads: has this landlord posted the address to the typical places people search for rentals? Is there even a Craiglist posting? Or Zillow? There should be a trail that shows this is a legitimate rental property. Even if this was a first-time landlord, they are bound to have some remnants of their attempts to fill the vacancy.

Use the Wayback Machine! This can alert you by finding out how long the website has been around! As some people sell websites just for fake references, this can be a good clue in your detective work.

Familial Interviews

When you do chat with the landlord, keep an ear out for a few things. What is their tone like? Are they nervous, uncomfortable? That’s not always a dead giveaway, considering they may just not be good ‘phone people.’ Also, if they are a first-time landlord it’s also good reason to be nervous. That doesn’t mean their tone isn’t something to keep in mind.

Combine this with the actual comments they’ll say. A real landlord will know how many times their prior tenant paid rent a day or so late, the amount of wear and tear, or if there were noise complaints. A landlord would not know how long they left dishes unwashed or if they left dirty laundry lying around a private bathroom. These are things friends and family would know or even a roommate from college… and you wouldn’t want to base your rental decision off of non-industry standard factors anyways.

woman on call with her child next to her

Use the Wayback Machine! This can alert you by finding out how long the website has been around! As some people sell websites just for fake references, this can be a good clue in your detective work.

woman on call with her child next to her

Familial Interviews

When you do chat with the landlord, keep an ear out for a few things. What is their tone like? Are they nervous, uncomfortable? That’s not always a dead giveaway, considering they may just not be good ‘phone people.’ Also, if they are a first-time landlord it’s also good reason to be nervous. That doesn’t mean their tone isn’t something to keep in mind.

Combine this with the actual comments they’ll say. A real landlord will know how many times their prior tenant paid rent a day or so late, the amount of wear and tear, or if there were noise complaints. A landlord would not know how long they left dishes unwashed or if they left dirty laundry lying around a private bathroom. These are things friends and family would know or even a roommate from college… and you wouldn’t want to base your rental decision off of non-industry standard factors anyways.

Checking Ownership Records

For the most part, property tax records are public. That means if you have the ‘Previous Address’ you should be able to see who owns it. Even without scouring tax records and government red tape, you can generally type in an address and find the most recent or current owner. If the name there does not line up with the ‘landlord’ that you are talking to? That could be a red flag.

There is no one hundred percent, fool proof, no doubts about it way to figure out what is a real, legitimate landlord reference. That doesn’t mean you’re forever high and dry. Before screening rental applicants, consider how much a landlord’s reference affects your final decision. How much would a bad or non-existent reference affect your final decision? At the end of the day, make sure you apply your standards to all your applicants and give your applicants space to share extra details if you’re on the fence.

Have you ever gotten Let us know in the comments!

Checking Ownership Records

For the most part, property tax records are public. That means if you have the ‘Previous Address’ you should be able to see who owns it. Even without scouring tax records and government red tape, you can generally type in an address and find the most recent or current owner. If the name there does not line up with the ‘landlord’ that you are talking to? That could be a red flag.

There is no one hundred percent, fool proof, no doubts about it way to figure out what is a real, legitimate landlord reference. That doesn’t mean you’re forever high and dry. Before screening rental applicants, consider how much a landlord’s reference affects your final decision. How much would a bad or non-existent reference affect your final decision? At the end of the day, make sure you apply your standards to all your applicants and give your applicants space to share extra details if you’re on the fence.

Have you ever gotten Let us know in the comments!

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2 Replies to “How to Spot Fake References from Renters Like a Pro”

  1. I recently posted a rental house on Zillow. The ad was almost entirely hijacked by someone who posted it on Zumper and Facebook Market place for half the price and apparently had a story people fell for as to why the price was so low. He assumed my name and claimed to be out of state on business but said he would arrange tours with the current residents – who then showed up at the property and said that I had sent them. I got Zumper to pull the ad and eventually Facebook Marketplace as well. In both cases the feedback I got was that these are both websites that are rich with this type of fraud. Then I found my ad hijacked on Craigslist. This one was easier to take down. I would say watermark your pictures and once you post on a legitimate source check these other sources to see if your ad has been hijacked – or post your own on these websites as well.

    1. That is a horrible situation to find yourself in, Chris! Thank you for sharing your story about it to try and help others be aware. Definitely watermark photos at all times to try and prevent fraud. Another way to try and mitigate this when your portfolio allows it is to set alerts for the property address. In case someone tries to hijack your listing you’ll get notified more quickly to have it removed.

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2 Replies to “How to Spot Fake References from Renters Like a Pro”

  1. I recently posted a rental house on Zillow. The ad was almost entirely hijacked by someone who posted it on Zumper and Facebook Market place for half the price and apparently had a story people fell for as to why the price was so low. He assumed my name and claimed to be out of state on business but said he would arrange tours with the current residents – who then showed up at the property and said that I had sent them. I got Zumper to pull the ad and eventually Facebook Marketplace as well. In both cases the feedback I got was that these are both websites that are rich with this type of fraud. Then I found my ad hijacked on Craigslist. This one was easier to take down. I would say watermark your pictures and once you post on a legitimate source check these other sources to see if your ad has been hijacked – or post your own on these websites as well.

    1. That is a horrible situation to find yourself in, Chris! Thank you for sharing your story about it to try and help others be aware. Definitely watermark photos at all times to try and prevent fraud. Another way to try and mitigate this when your portfolio allows it is to set alerts for the property address. In case someone tries to hijack your listing you’ll get notified more quickly to have it removed.

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The nation’s most trusted tenant screening for real estate agents, landlords, and property managers. No cost background checks available 24/7.

©2018 ApplyConnect. All rights reserved

ApplyConnect marks used herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of applyconnect.com. Other product and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.