How to Spot Fake References from Renters Like a Pro

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 and property managers what they were like as a resident 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 property owner, 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 rental owner, 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 and property managers what they were like as a resident 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 property owner, 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 rental owner, they are bound to have some remnants of their attempts to fill the vacancy.

  • Quick Tip! Do they have a dedicated website for their rental(s)?

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 prior property owner or their leasing team, 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 property owner 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 rental owner will know how many times their prior resident paid rent a day or so late, the amount of wear and tear, or if there were noise complaints. They 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.

  • Quick Tip! Do they have a dedicated website for their rental(s)?

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

When you do chat with the prior property owner or their leasing team, 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 property owner 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 rental owner will know how many times their prior resident paid rent a day or so late, the amount of wear and tear, or if there were noise complaints. They 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 prior property owner reference. That doesn’t mean you’re forever high and dry. Before screening rental applicants, consider how much the 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 prior property owner reference. That doesn’t mean you’re forever high and dry. Before screening rental applicants, consider how much the 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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Nicole Seidner

Cole Seidner is a copywriter here at the CIC Blog. She holds a degree in Writing from Savannah College of Art and Design with a focus in creative nonfiction. Her free time is spent taking pictures of her dogs or reading deep dive analysis on movies that she hasn’t seen.

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