Checking landlord references is part of the tenant screening process. Most people provide real references on their rental applications, but some people try to slip a fake reference through. They might have failed to pay their rent on time, or maybe they left the apartment in disarray. They know they won’t get the house or apartment with a real reference, so they find someone else to act as their landlord, and they’re getting better at it than ever before.
In the past, people relied solely on their friends and family members to act as fake references for them. They still turn to their friends and family members, but they also have one more tool in their arsenal. They also hire companies to pose as landlords for them. These companies have one job to do, and they do it well. They give glowing references for people they don’t even know. It’s a huge scam, and landlords are falling for it left and right.
It might be more difficult to pick out a fake reference, but it’s far from impossible. In fact, there are 15 ways to spot a fake landlord reference. Don’t rely on just one. Use as many as possible, so you’ll never have to worry about falling for a fake reference. Then, you will fill your rental properties with people who have a good rental history. These people are more likely to pay rent on time and take care of your property like it’s their own. That’s a huge relief when you’re a landlord.
1. Act Like You’re Looking for a Rental
Posing as a potential renter is a quick and easy way to spot a fake reference. Call the number and tell the person you’re interested in renting a place.
If he or she acts confused, stumbles on words, or simply hangs up, you probably have a faker on your hands. Keep in mind that some people are good actors, though, and they might be prepared for that phone call. Because of that, don’t be afraid to take it to the next level by scheduling an appointment to see the property. Most fake references won’t be willing to take it that far, or if they do make an appointment, they will cancel it. Never be afraid to call a reference’s bluff. This is an easy way to weed out fake references. Most will run away as fast as they can before making an appointment to show a property they don’t own.
2. Do Some Sniffing Around Social Media
Social media is a useful tool to use when checking on a potential tenant. Look at the applicant’s social media account and see if he or she is connected to the reference. If you notice the reference tagged in photos and mentioned in status updates, it’s highly unlikely that the two have a landlord/tenant relationship. Instead, the two are likely friends and the reference is fake. It’s highly likely that the potential tenant recruited one of his or her buddies to field phone calls.
Don’t stop your research just because the two are connected, though. Take the next step by visiting the reference’s Facebook page. Is there anything on the page about being a landlord? Look at the work history and check the status updates. If the person is a landlord, it should be pretty clear by looking at the account.
3. Match the Name Up to Tax Records
You can look up tax records related to any property out there. In this case, look up the records for the renter’s previous property and see if the owner’s name matches the reference’s name. If the two match, the reference is likely legitimate. However, if they do not match, that doesn’t necessarily mean the reference is fake. The person could have sold the property. This is easy to figure out. Call the reference and ask him or her who purchased the property. If they know the name, it checks out.
There is one thing to keep in mind when following this tip. It is possible that the reference’s phone number isn’t the only thing that’s fake. The potential tenant might even give a fake name. For example, he or she might give the former landlord’s real name but use a fake number, so you won’t reach the real landlord. That means this tip isn’t foolproof. Use it in conjunction with other tips to do your due diligence.
4. Request Verifying Information
Landlords tend to keep information on file well after a tenant has moved out. That information includes the move in and move out date, social security number, and birthday. Don’t be afraid to ask the reference to verify the information. If one landlord cannot do it, he or she might just keep bad records. However, if none of the potential tenant’s references can do it, it is awfully strange. If that’s the case, it is likely that the references are fake. Do a little more digging to make sure, though. You don’t want to pass up on a potential tenant simply because the reference couldn’t provide this information. Instead, it should be a starting point for your investigation.
5. Watch Out If the Answers Are Too Vague
A fake reference might be unsure of what to say. Because of that, these references often provide vague information. They don’t go into details about the tenant or the property, and they are in a hurry to get off the phone. They think the less they say the better. While some landlords are just vague in nature, this is a reason to be suspicious, especially if there are other warning signs regarding the reference. If a reference is vague, ask for specifics. If he or she can’t give you any details, you have a reason to be concerned. It’s highly likely the person can’t give you specifics because he or she doesn’t know any. After all, it’s hard to have specific information if you’re not a real landlord.
6. Be Wary If the Landlord’s Information Is Too Personal
While some fake references refuse to give any information, others give way too much. They give specific details about the tenant that only a friend would know. If the reference seems to know way too much about the tenant, that’s a cause for concern. Take a step back and ask yourself if it’s a real reference. Most landlords don’t get overly chummy with their tenants, so if the reference seems like a good buddy, it might be because he or she is a friend instead of a landlord. Again, this isn’t reason enough to throw out the reference, but it is a reason to do some more digging. The landlord might just be a different type of character, but do some checking to make sure it’s a legitimate reference.
7. Cross Reference the Phone Numbers
Conduct a quick search of the reference phone number you’re provided. Check on the landlord’s website to make sure it matches. If the landlord doesn’t have a website, just do a quick online search. Plug the phone number into Google and see what comes back. You might come across a Craigslist property listing with that phone number, or you might see the number on other real estate marketing sites. That’s a great sign that the reference is legitimate. However, if you can’t find the number on any property listings, take a step back and think about what that means. Most landlords have their phone numbers out there for the public to see. If the reference doesn’t, it could mean he or she is fake.
8. Run a Background Check
You should run a tenant background check on every potential tenant. This does more than just let you weed out bad tenants. It will also let you see if the tenant has an eviction record. This is one of the main reasons people use fake references. They were evicted, and they don’t want potential landlords to find out. If a landlord gives an excellent reference but the tenant has an eviction record, that reference is likely fake. After all, a landlord isn’t going to praise a tenant that he or she had to evict. Instead, the landlord will warn other landlords about the tenant, so they won’t make the same mistake.
9. Ask for Landlord-Specific Advice
You can quickly trap a fake reference by asking him or her for landlord-specific advice. For instance, ask the reference how he or she gets rid of a nonpaying tenant, or how much he or she usually charges for a security deposit. Landlords are typically happy to help each other. Of course, if someone isn’t really a landlord, he or she will have a very hard time providing any type of advice. If the reference can’t produce an answer, he or she might be a fake. Also, if he or she does come up with an answer, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense, this is another warning sign.
10. Ask Specific Information About the Property
The reference should also be able to give specific information about the property. You should be able to ask how much the rent is, how many apartments are in the building, and what kind of amenities are available. If the landlord is legitimate, the answers will come easy. Of course, if the person used a fake reference, that reference will have a hard time coming up with the answers. He or she might eventually offer answers, but you’ll hear the indecisiveness in the person’s voice. Also, the information might not line up with what you know about the property. For example, if the landlord says the property has 10 apartments but you know it has 20, assume the reference is a fake. You can even correct the reference and see how he or she responds.
11. Give Inaccurate Information and See If You’re Corrected
When you talk to the reference, give some inaccurate information. For instance, give the wrong move in and move out date, or mention that the tenant is still living in that property if he or she has already moved out. Most landlords will be correct you if you provide the wrong information. Keep in mind that landlords are busy people, though, so if you aren’t corrected, it doesn’t necessarily mean the reference is a fake. It’s suspicious, and you should take a closer look, though. You’ll need to do a little extra digging to make sure the reference is legitimate.
12. Call a Landline
If the tenant rented from a large company, don’t accept a cellphone number. Ask for a landline and call it. Then, you can talk to the receptionist and get directed to the right person. The likelihood of falling for a scam is much less likely if you contact someone on a landline that goes to a receptionist. Most tenants won’t set up an elaborate scheme that includes a roomful of fake references. It’s hard enough to get a single fake reference. Your potential tenant probably won’t have a room full of them, just waiting for your call.
Keep in mind that some landlords don’t have landlines, so don’t exclude a tenant just because he or she can only provide a cellphone number. Some landlords simply only use cellphones. However, if you can get a number to a landline, use it.
13. Call the Advertised Phone Number
If you’re worried about getting scammed, Google the landlord’s name and find the listed number. Then, give that landlord a call. If you were provided a fake number, this will give you the chance to speak to the actual landlord. Then you can get the real scoop on what to expect if you rent to the tenant in question. You might be surprised by what you find out. The landlord might tell you that he or she had to evict the tenant for nonpayment or that the tenant trashed the apartment. This information will help you decide if you should rent to the person.
Keep in mind that having a different phone number doesn’t necessarily mean the reference is a fake, though. Some landlords give their tenants their personal cell numbers and use their landlines to advertise the property. That’s why you should make the call to see what the landlord has to say. When you do, provide the phone number that was listed on the application and ask the landlord if that is his or her number. Then, get down to the questioning process.
14. Talk to Other Landlords
As you probably know, the landlord community is a relatively small one. If someone has tried to get one over on you, there’s a good chance he or she has also tried to get one over on someone else, as well. If something doesn’t seem right, talk to your colleagues. See if they have also interacted with this tenant or landlord. If they can vouch for the tenant or landlord, you can move forward with the rental. However, if they’ve also run into problems with that tenant or landlord, it’s a good idea to move on without that tenant. The landlord community is an excellent resource, so be sure to use it.
15. Go with Your Gut
This tried and true method works more often than not. If something seems off, it likely is, so you should do a little more digging. While you never want to eliminate someone just because your gut is telling you the reference is fake, you should use your gut as a starting point to open an investigation. You don’t want to get stuck with someone who faked a reference, so do your due diligence if something seems off. Do as much digging as possible until you either out the fake reference or realize that the reference is legitimate. Then, you can move forward accordingly.
Don’t Get Fooled
The idea of getting fooled by a fake reference is a scary one, but it is avoidable. Follow these tips to protect yourself and your property. Then, you can rent to your next tenant with confidence, knowing he or she has given real references.
Keep in mind that even if a reference is legitimate, the tenant still might not work out. That’s why it’s important to take extra steps to protect yourself just in case. Start the process by running a tenant credit check. That way, you will know if the person is financially responsible and likely to pay the rent on time every month.
Then, have the person sign a rock-solid lease agreement that outlines the reasons for eviction. Once you have everything in order, you will be ready to open the property up to the tenant.
Then, you can work toward building a solid tenant/landlord relationship with the person. By doing your homework and putting everything in order, you might end up with a long-term tenant that is reliable and dependable. That’s music to any landlord’s ears.
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About the author
Matt Angerer is the Founder and President of VerticalRent. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics that help Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters across America. He is particularly interested in helping renters understand their local marketplace, pick the best places to live, and find an awesome roommate. Since 2011, VerticalRent has grown to service over 100,000 landlords and renters across America.