By Robert L. Cain, Copyright 2022 Cain Publications, Inc.
Amy got rejected. The screener took one look at her Facebook page and said “no way.” Her page displayed a video of a wild party complete with trashing an apartment, people passed out, noise complaints, and police coming. Trouble was, Amy wasn’t even at that party and only knew a couple of people who were. She was well-known for being in bed by 10 every night, only going to parties at or from her work as a legal secretary, and saving money religiously. What happened was one of her “friends” had posted the video on Amy’s page as a joke for all the world to see. Some joke considering how it affected Amy’s reputation.
If the screener had looked farther, he would have seen that Amy was as close to an ideal tenant as you can get. Look in the dictionary for the definition of “ideal tenant” and Amy’s picture would be there; her apartment always neat and tidy, her rent always paid the first of the month on the dot, her behavior always respectful and friendly. Did that landlord ever miss out.
Andy got accepted. The screener took one look at his Facebook page and said “Wow! What a great-looking applicant!” and so only glanced at the information on his application. Andy’s Facebook page showed him hard at work at his job (more about that in a minute), him hiking in nature, and him passing out food to the homeless at Thanksgiving. Trouble was, every bit of that was completely made up. Andy had created his Facebook page to cover up that he far more closely matched Amy’s page.
The danger of relying on social media for a decision about anyone’s character is that it’s so easily doctored that nothing warrants its acceptance. To ensure everything is factual, verify and double-check it.
You see, Andy applied as Andrew Jerald Mason and had every kind of documentation anyone could ever ask for to prove his outstanding qualities. It was all fake. He had created or altered the documents he presented so that any landlord who would turn him down would simply lack common sense. His new identity had excellent credit, work, and landlord references. Andy was thorough. Every document he looked too almost good to be true (until examined carefully). The landlord handed him the lease to sign and the keys.
Two months later the party boy found himself back on the street looking for a new landlord to victimize. He had lived Amy’s supposed Facebook party a couple of times a week. The cost of putting the apartment back into even close to rental condition figured in the thousands of dollars. Then, when the landlord went after Andy for payment of the damages, Andy was nowhere to be found. He didn’t exist anywhere.
Nothing beats effective applicant screening for protecting your property and your bottom line. But applicant screening is replete with holes and pitfalls to trip up and damage a rental owner’s property and bank account. How can you do it safely and effectively? Effectively means ensuring that your applicant is worth of renting from you. Safely means you know the data you use for your decision is accurate. Rely on questionable data and you could be in trouble. What you think is effective screening may not be at all. You might miss out on an excellent applicant and end up with Andy.
In Amy’s case, the screener was nothing less than sloppy. Social media is unreliable at best since it can easily be hacked. Had the screener had the good sense to ignore the Facebook post as unreliable and gone on to screen as he should, he would have recommended that the landlord welcome Amy with open arms as a valuable tenant.
With Andy’s application, the screener was nothing less than sloppy. He fell for documentation easily created online by anyone with halfway decent computer knowledge and by using companies whose business it is to create documentation that makes someone appear to be the ideal applicant. Andy used several ways to create a false identity.
He found a Social Security report for someone with a birthdate and other statistics closely approximating his own and did a good job of changing the name to match his with the typeface and spacing almost exactly like that on the Social Security report. If the screener had looked closely, he would have seen that the report wasn’t as neat and tidy as a document should look. The typeface differed just slightly, but noticeably, and the spacing was just a little off from a legitimate Social report.
Andy bought phony pay stubs and bank statements to show he had more than enough income and savings from a company that phonies up documentation. The company Andy wrote that he worked for existed, but Andy was only part-time and had worked there for only a few months, not the five years he claimed. The screener never checked to see if Andy actually earned the income he claimed or that he had a bank account at the bank where his supposed money was stashed. Andy had bought official-looking templates from companies that sell such things including a driver’s license, Social Security Card, birth certificate, and Bachelor’s Degree from Stanford University.
Andy had arranged with friends to act as fake references, to answer the phone and pretend to be employers, former landlords, and people who would say they were confident that Andy was a model citizen. If the screener had checked the phone numbers against the supposed companies and landlords, he would have spotted the fraud immediately.
The screener took the credit report Andy supplied at face value rather than cross-checking it with a credit reporting company which would have immediately spotted the inconsistency. Of course, Andy would most likely have had an explanation for this “obvious error” that might have even sounded good. But no matter how good it looks, doubt everything and verify everything.
Andy had numerous evictions and former landlords eager to tell anyone who would listen about their unpleasant experiences with Andy.
Amy got rejected and Andy got accepted and two landlords paid the price for sloppy applicant screening. To ensure quality tenants, treat social media as untrustworthy and verify every item on a rental application.
No neither Amy nor Andy is real, but they may show up under different names as applicants for your rental property.