As has been reported, agencies are being warned about tenants faking documents to pass referencing checks. But how easy is it to fake a reference?
The bad news is that it’s easy, and you probably can’t do much about it. The current system is flawed, and needs innovation and radical change before it should be completely trusted.
Twenty years ago, it was considered a niche skill to be able to digitally manipulate photos. Now, most of us walk around with the equivalent of Photoshop in our pockets. Software is easier to use and modifying photos has become a daily activity on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.
When you consider how easy it is, fraudulently creating bank statements is no longer a technical feat, but more a measure of morality and judgement. Unfortunately, those comfortable forging these statements are probably not averse to pretending their friend is their employer – and this is where the traditional reference falls short.
Agencies and landlords are relying on these references to decide if a tenant can afford to rent a property, and yet they actually prove very little.
If you’re not yet convinced how easy it is, I urge you to look into ‘inspect element’ – a function built into most web browsers. It would take seconds to produce one of these. Not minutes, seconds.
As an employer, I’ve been on the other end of these references. “Hello, is that Peter?” “Yes.” “Does (name) work there?” “Yeah.” “Thanks.”
That was the whole conversation. They never checked who I was, how much that person earned or how long they were in employment. I could have been anyone, and this is happening every day.
Referencing companies are under more competition than ever, and they’re cutting corners to keep afloat. Plus, they’re rushing to complete these as quickly as possible to keep agencies happy.
Of course, not all referencing companies are this relaxed. Many of you reading this will be wondering how good the service you use is and hoping that they’re more thorough than whoever called me.
To attract more views I should have titled this short article “Five things to watch out for in a fake reference”, but that would be misleading. The truth is, if it’s done well, it’s almost impossible to spot.
I’m considering making an open bet to all referencing companies, that I could lie about my income and still pass. Purely in the interest of experimentation, of course.
Still, I want to leave you with some advice, so here goes.
First, trust your gut instinct. Take the time to call the employer yourself, and if something feels odd, keep pressing. Criminals aren’t all great liars.
Secondly, take some time to look into the processes that referencing companies actually use. Not just what the salesman promises they do, but their reputation and ethics.
Whatever your outlook, there’s a new generation of tenants coming and it’s time to innovate.
Sure, house prices may still be rising, and rent yield isn’t dropping quickly, but that’s not where you should be looking.
* Peter Ramsey is founder of Movem.co.uk, a review-driven property portal that aims to connect the best tenants, landlords and agencies