Real Estate

7 Ways How to Spot a Fake Pay Stub From Your Tenants

It’s common practice to request a pay stub from prospective tenants for income verification. While this sounds like a simple, straightforward process to verify income, there’s trouble lurking in the form of a fake pay stub.  Indeed, some try to create pay stubs online to create fake proof of income. 

Simple Signs to Spot Fake Pay Stubs

Knowing how to spot fake pay stubs can save you from a lot of hassle in the future. Here are seven signs you should look for to check stubs. 

1. Inconsistencies in numbers and data

One of the most glaring signs of counterfeit stubs is inconsistent data. This may appear as miscalculations regarding a pay period, uneven totals, or discrepancies between gross pay and net pay. With a real pay stub, employers generally use standardized payroll software that automates calculations and creates pay stubs. This almost guarantees mathematical accuracy. 

If the numbers don’t add up or if deductions don’t seem to correlate with the gross pay, take caution. You may be dealing with fake pay stubs. 

2. Missing standard information

A real pay stub will provide comprehensive details, including the employer’s name, address, employee identification number, and more. If any of this standard information is missing or appears generic, it’s a red flag for a fake pay stub.

It’s also essential to cross-check the employer’s details provided with public records or directories to ensure legitimacy.

3. Poor quality or formatting

Professional payroll software generates clear, organized, easy-to-read pay stubs. On the other hand, fake pay stubs may exhibit signs of poor quality, such as misaligned columns, varying fonts, or spelling errors. 

Any obvious formatting issues or lack of uniformity in presentation could be a telltale sign of a forged document.

4. Absence of deductions

Real pay stubs will showcase a variety of deductions, such as insurance deductions, Medicare taxes, Social Security taxes, and retirement contributions. If a pay stub lacks these deductions or if the amounts seem unusually low or high, proceed with caution. 

Cross-reference against federal, state, and local tax rates for accuracy. This can help you quickly uncover fake stubs.

5. Too good to be true

Sometimes, a pay stub might display exceptionally high earnings or bonuses that don’t match the applicant’s job title or industry standards. While everyone loves a success story, it’s crucial to remain realistic. 

Conduct market research or consult industry guides for salary information to determine the average pay for specific roles and compare them to what’s presented on the pay stub.

6. Confusion between O and zero

When the letter O replaces the number 0, it’s a strong indication of a fake pay stub. Companies employing payroll software rarely make this oversight. Authentic documents often use a slashed zero to avoid confusion.

7. Suspiciously rounded figures

Alarm bells should ring when all earnings on a pay stub are perfectly rounded. For instance, seeing net pay as a rounded number like $1,500 instead of $1,498.05 is unusual, as precise payroll calculations seldom result in such neat figures.

While these aren’t the only ways to spot a fake pay stub, they’re more than enough to point you in the right direction. The more tenants you screen, the easier it is to implement a strategy for reviewing pay stubs for suspicious activity.

Other Ways You Can Verify Tenant Employment

While requesting a pay stub is the most common way to verify potential tenant employment and provide proof of income, there are other options available to you:

Direct employer verification

One of the most reliable methods is to directly contact the prospective tenant’s employer. Ask the tenant for the name and contact information of their immediate supervisor or the HR department. Once received, give them a call to verify employment status, verify income, and verify tenure. 

Tip: Ensure you’re speaking to a legitimate representative of the company, not a friend or relative posing as an employer.

Request additional documentation

Beyond pay stubs that can help with income verification, there are other forms of documentation that can provide evidence of employment and earnings. These can include tax returns, bank statements, or employment contracts. 

While these documents can also be falsified, cross-referencing multiple documents can help paint a clearer picture of a tenant’s financial situation.

Note: Since independent contractors don’t receive standard pay stubs, it’s critical to request additional documentation. Requesting proof of income is a must. 

Online employment verification services

Several online companies offer employment verification services. These platforms often have access to databases and can provide quick, reliable verifications. However, ensure the platform you select is reputable and known for accuracy.

This is one of the quickest and most time-efficient ways to verify employment and ensure that you’re not trusting a fake document for income verification. 

Check professional social networks

Platforms like LinkedIn can give insights into a person’s employment history and current status. While this isn’t a foolproof method (since profiles can be updated or edited), it’s an additional tool that can provide context or raise questions if the details don’t align with what’s been provided.

Tip: Start with LinkedIn, but review other social media platforms—such as X (formerly known as Twitter) and Facebook—for employment-related information. 

Request a reference letter

Ask the prospective tenant for a reference letter from their current employer. This letter should state the position held by the tenant, the duration of employment, and their monthly or yearly earnings. It should also be written on company letterhead and include contact information for verification.

Check the credit report

Running a credit report check can give a broader view of a tenant’s financial reliability. While it doesn’t confirm employment directly, regular income often results in specific patterns of financial behavior. 

For example, regular payments and a good credit score can indirectly suggest stable employment.

Fake Pay Stub Frequently Asked Questions

It’s common to have questions about fake pay stubs. Here are some of the most common, along with comprehensive answers to help you better understand this specific challenge.

What are fake pay stubs? 

Fake pay stubs are forged or altered documents that purportedly represent proof of an individual’s earnings and employment, but do not accurately reflect their true income or employment status.

Why would someone use a fake pay stub? 

Individuals might use fake pay stubs to deceive entities or individuals for various reasons, such as securing a rental property, obtaining a loan, or showing falsified income for illegal activities.

What are the legal consequences of using fake pay stubs? 

Using fake pay stubs is illegal and can result in criminal charges, such as fraud or forgery. Those found guilty may face penalties including fines, probation, or imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the offense.

How are fake pay stubs made?

Fake pay stubs are typically created using computer software or an online pay stub generator that allows individuals to input false income and employment details. These tools produce documents that appear legitimate but contain fabricated information. Advanced technology, such as online pay stub generators, has made it easier to create fake pay stubs.

Can independent contractors use fake pay stubs?

Contractors don’t receive traditional pay stubs outlining gross wages, net pay, and other key details. Instead, they typically provide invoices, bank statements, or receipts to document their earnings and expenses. Remember, these individuals can still create a pay stub online to give the impression of steady income. 

Don’t Let a Fake Pay Stub Trick You

Managing real estate—regardless of the number of properties—comes with many challenges and concerns, with fake pay stubs among them. It’s critical for landlords and property managers to be meticulous in their vetting processes to verify proof of income.

By recognizing red flags and using various verification methods, you can ensure a trustworthy tenant-landlord relationship. Always prioritize due diligence, as it’s the cornerstone of safeguarding your investment and gaining peace of mind.

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.

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