This is a guest post provided by our partner CIC, -experts in tenant screenings and background checks. This post is meant to help landlords spot fake references from renters.

Everyone has thought about deception at some point. Typically, when one is younger, the idea of doing something a little bad comes up. Cheating on homework you feel you have no chance to get done by yourself, pretending you have a Significant Other to get Grandma off your back about dating, and yelling to an empty apartment that ‘food’s here’ so the delivery person doesn’t think you’re Depression Eating is all par for the course. This includes wondering if you should lie about having two years’ experience because, for some reason, people want that for an entry-level job and even the idle thoughts of pretending to have rented before so you can get out of mom’s basement already.

Everyone has been desperate before. It just doesn’t help when you’re the property manager on the other end of those lies. 


With new technology, lying has gotten more advanced than ever. Photoshop and VPNs make faking important documents and locations easier than they’ve ever been and even if you don’t subscribe to these services, other people do. It is now simple and easy to purchase a false landlord recommendation through online services dedicated to these practices. 

When it’s your job to review these things, how do you know if paystubs and references are fake? 

Olga Piña, ISD Supervisor for CIC, recommends that you should “not base decisions solely on rental or employment verifications, but in conjunction with the credit, eviction, and criminal history.” A thorough background screening report is essential in determining if the applicant meets your rental requirements.  Consumers are not always completely honest and references alone or merely looking at complicated paystubs shouldn’t be the basis of the entire decision, but rather one factor of many. 

Use of Bad Information

Fake information such as references and paystubs are more likely to use broad, vague stories to tolerate fill-in-the-blank situations for users. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for specifics or incorrect information. Misspelled names, incorrect birthdays, and faulty numbers would be caught by a professional accountant before being filed for a paystub. 

Employers use strong systems that will generate the correct information without a second thought for each individual employee that leaves no room for error, such as birthdays, timecards, billing addresses and more. Double-check these to make sure everything aligns with what you know, such as the previous address.

Everything Lines Up

With professional systems, everything lines up. This may seem tedious, but the spacing matters. When an accountant sets up a pay stub, the numbers and point systems will be lined up so that the math itself is easier, not to mention the computer aligns automatically. If the numbers and decimal points are not symmetrical, the chances are that it’s a bad photoshop fake. The same will go for a written reference. Email systems and Word are designed so that line-height matches, meaning each line of text within a paragraph and in between blocks of text match up. If the white space on a page is stretched or slanted, something has been altered in post. 

Age of Sleuthing

One way to see if a landlord reference is fake is to call the number as a potential rental applicant. Seeing as an age-old classic way to have a friend play pretend. This means the information given is likely to be personal, not professional. If you call as a potential tenant they are likely to be thrown off, with few prepared answers to the expected and you may get the stumblings of truth to your questions. 

If references of any kind are given with more personal information than business, it’s a sign that maybe a family member of college buddy is trying to help their friend out. 

Has anyone tried to fool you with fake references or paystubs?
Let us know in the comments!