As a conscientious landlord, you take your due diligence seriously. You want to ensure a great tenant moves into your property, so you ask the right questions and you check their documents to make sure they’re the real deal.
But what if the prospective tenant volunteers up a credit report and it looks too good to be true?
While it’s wonderful to trust your fellow humans and believe people are honest, there are occasions when that isn’t the case. Tenants desperate to get their foot in your door may revert to doctoring documents to look better on paper. One way people can attempt to trick you is through fake credit reports. So how do you spot a fake?
Why you should check tenant credit reports
Signing a lease and handing over your keys is an exercise in trust. You don’t want a liar, a fake, or a fraud living in your property. Tenants willing to fake a credit report most likely have some financial problems they’re trying to hide. And if they’re prepared to fake their way into your home, who knows what else they’ll do once they move in.
A great tenant can give you peace of mind, guaranteed reliable monthly payments, and long-term security. The wrong tenant, though, can cause headaches, property damage, and lost income.
You need to check tenant credit reports to protect yourself and your property, before they move in. Once someone has the keys to your property, it can be time-consuming and expensive to evict them.
The best and easiest way to ensure you’re reviewing the real document is to source it yourself. But if you do opt to review a copy provided by a tenant, there are certain things you should look out for.
Errors to look for in a credit report
Here’s the thing: it’s not that difficult to edit a credit report. It’s actually pretty easy. Anyone can do it with just a basic grasp of software applications like Adobe Acrobat or any number of online programs.
But you can catch some errors. Here’s what to look for when checking the validity of a tenant credit report:
Grammar and math errors
Some mistakes will be basic. Not every applicant will be great at spelling, grammar, and math – but you should expect the credit bureaus to get these basics right. So, if you come across basic spelling mistakes, typos, misplaced commas, or math that doesn’t add up, it’s a decent sign that the credit report you’re reviewing might have been doctored. If you spot basic errors like these, it’s time to ask some questions.
Make sure everything looks like it should, and it’s where it should be. Look for consistency in the fonts used on the page. Also, look for text size and placement – does the text seem high above the line in one place and aligned right on the line in another, does the text size change from large to small in places? This can be a sign someone has added new information to the document but failed to format correctly. Check the dates too and ensure they’re printed the same, in the correct location, on every page.
Missing or wrong details
Are names and addresses correct? Are sections or whole pages missing? Keep your eyes peeled for other ways a dishonest prospective tenant might try to pull the wool over your eyes. Never accept screenshots – ensure you’re reviewing the whole document, with all pages numbered and in the right order (the pages should indicate “page 1 of 4,” for example). And ensure the name and address is consistent with other documents – credit reports should feature the consumer name and address on file with the credit bureau, plus will often include date of birth and SIN, if available.
Other steps you can take to avoid fraud
Reviewing a tenant credit report is just one important step in your tenant screening process. What else can you do to ensure you’re getting a problem-free tenant into your property?
Request additional documentation
Credit reports are only one form of document. For a more complete picture of your potential tenant, consider also asking them for references from current and previous landlords. Positive references from landlords who trusted them to rent their properties can help put your mind at ease. You can also request references from their employer to verify their place of work. If you are extra cautious about fraudulent documents, you can also ask if it’s ok to follow up with the landlords and employers by telephone.
People with questionable decision-making skills might reveal their wild side online. A quick Google search, as well as checking popular social media sites, can give you a pretty good idea of how a person behaves and interacts with others. A Google search should also bring up occasions where a prospective tenant might have made the news – in either positive or negative ways.
Get to know your prospective tenants. A tenant could live in your property for many years, so you want to feel comfortable conversing with them. This will also give you a good way to read their responses face-to-face when you ask certain questions or probe into their rental history.
Employ professional help
Sometimes paying for help from companies that specialize in tenancy applications can save you in the long run. If you want to leave the legwork to someone else and ensure the background checks are thorough, consider using a third-party company to screen your prospective tenants. Some companies source and check credit reports, while others have add-ons for court records, social media, and employment. If you want to hand off the full administrative task of handling your rental, employing a property manager might be for you. Property management companies can handle your tenant screening, in addition to looking after the property.
Sam Boyer spends, invests, budgets, and writes. He enjoys writing about things he wishes he’d learned earlier — like spending, investing, and budgeting. A journalist originally from New Zealand, Sam has written extensively about consumer affairs, insurance, travel, health, and crime.