Updated December 8, 2023
Why would another individual rent living space in your name? There are multiple answers to that question, and none of them bode well for anyone victimized by a scheme in which a scam artist holds their identity details and intends to maximize that data’s value.
Landlords and property managers increasingly use background checks to obtain credit scores to screen candidates. Some rentals occur entirely online; the landlord may not even meet the tenant until move-in day. While that’s convenient for all parties, it opens new avenues for rental application fraud.
In your name, but not your address
Imagine the surprise when you discover someone rented a home using your identity. But how will you learn about the abuse? Your shock—and possible damage to your financial standing—could be delayed until the ID thief falls behind on rent or skips out on the lease.
What does rental application identity theft achieve? The thief could have poor credit or a criminal record. Their rental history could contain evictions or other adverse information. Maybe they have no references. Renting nice digs in your name seems like a grand idea—especially if the scammer doesn’t really plan to pay rent.
Evictions can take up to six months; during that time, the con artist lives rent-free. The ID thief needs to steal another identity each time they move, but past crimes never catch up with them.
So, let’s say that application to rent under your name receives is approved. The scammer gets the keys. What could possibly go wrong? The imposter won’t care for the place or keep it in good condition. Significant damage could be left behind. Then you get a contact from the landlord—you’re his tenant after all—asking you to pay for repairs. Contact from a property owner is one way that victims learn their identity is compromised.
Another heads up is a large drop in your credit score when adverse info hits your summary. Proactive measures are needed. Routinely check your credit score to spot any damaging entries.
How rental application identity theft occurs
The cheater needs personal details to commit this crime, including address, date of birth, and usually Social Security number. Your data could come from past data breaches, focused hacks or even files a rogue employee gets into at work. The sources are numerous; that’s why IDShield monitors Social Security numbers and personal information and notifies members if their identifying info appears for sale on the dark web.
Credit report impact
Good renters may think landlords will report on-time payments to credit firms. That rarely occurs so stellar payment history is not generally a plus. Bad tenants might receive adverse reports, but the thieves don’t care. Negative comments wind up in your credit file not theirs.
There is currently not much responsible renters can gain in terms of credit scores. As more firms offer rent collections and data use, that could be changing. More positive data on file would be a plus for many tenants since on-time payments are the #1 factor weighted in calculating credit scores.
Rental data trackers
Companies that collect rents can share data on tenant creditworthiness with major credit bureaus. The field continues to grow despite the legal risks involved if a major error taints the wrong dossier.
Their pitch to landlords is they will get paid promptly—for a small fee. Agency evaluations can yield data on an applicant’s ability to pay the rent and predict how long they might stay in the unit. Each apartment turnover can siphon thousands of dollars out of a landlord’s pockets.
Note: Only the newer Vanguard and FICO scoring programs consider rental history at this time. Often prospective landlords won’t know which score gets pulled but you should ask anyway.
A positive trail of on-time payments including rent, utilities, phone bills or other recurring debts, would give your credit score a boost. You want that if your credit is still thin, or you’ve recently entered the workforce and don’t have a lengthy financial history. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to add the data yourself. It only works if your landlord uses one of these firms to collect rents or shares those facts.
Eyes on the files
Mixing the files of two individuals with remarkably similar names is just one of the hazards these agencies face. There have been noteworthy lawsuits where severe damages resulted. In one case, a Navy member with a high security clearance was confused with a suspected drug dealer. Their names were similar, but not identical. The man who’d passed extensive background checks for work was denied a rental. Another lawsuit challenges whether screening services comply with the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Fair Housing Act. FCRA dictates how adverse info notices are distributed and how to correct errors promptly.
If the victims of these errors succeed in court, those rulings could alter screening practices. Until those decisions are made, both renters and homeowners should help themselves. Yes, homeowners, too. There’s nothing to stop scammers from utilizing a homeowner’s data in a rental scam.
You really don’t want this headache. Monitor your identifying data points often to detect fraudulent use. Obtain the name of the service the landlord employs. With that, you can check a firm’s website for info they collect. It might indicate what needs checking first.
Get a copy of the file used to evaluate you as a tenant. Most tracking companies fall under FCRA regulations like credit bureaus; they should provide you with one free report yearly. Corporate websites for these rental services will out the process to obtain your file.
Ideally, prospective tenants should check credit reports and rental-focused summaries weeks or months ahead of a planned move. Thirty days is the minimum waiting time for correction if errors are discovered.
More protection help
If you suspect someone used your identity to rent a home, credit bureaus and rental reporting firms need to hear from you. Start with LexisNexis, Experian RentBureau and CoreLogic to request a fraud alert be placed on your record.
Then contact Experian, Equifax and Transunion credit bureaus to indicate you may be the victim of ID theft. Would-be landlords and other potential creditors will know to request multiple forms of identification and, hopefully, catch a thief. Alerts will not freeze your credit so the landlord can still check your reports.
With IDShield’s identity theft protection plans, one of our counselors can help with alerts. We also help with correcting errors in your files.
IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. For complete terms, coverage and conditions, please see an identity theft plan. All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations.