"Trust but verify" is a motto that's been in the military for a long time, but it's always been the smart way to do business too. If you sell automobiles, rent housing units or own a high-end jewelry store, it's important to know that your clients can afford to pay for what they want to purchase. One of the surest ways to do this is to verify your customer's employment, including the weekly or monthly rate of pay. Most honest people will have no trouble producing genuine pay stubs to prove their employment, as long as they're not self-employed. Those who don't have the right qualifications might try to scam their way into your agreement by using a number of methods, including producing fake pay stubs. Failing to spot these fakes can cost you thousands of dollars or worse.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Fake paycheck stubs can usually be determined by the quality of the object. Problems such as math errors, numbers that don't line up and poor spelling are obvious clues to bogus pay stubs, as are documents missing essential information.
Consequences of Accepting Fake Pay Stubs
Finding out that you were fooled with fake pay stubs in a business transaction can make you feel embarrassed, but that might be the least of your problems. At the very least, you may have sold a product to someone who can't afford the payments on it. Eventually, he's likely to fall behind on the payments, and you'll have to deal with the problem of repossession or face losing thousands of dollars in merchandise.
If you deal in real estate and rent to someone who can't afford the monthly payments, you may have to go through eviction proceedings in order to get your property back. This can cost you a small fortune in legal fees and lost time. You'd be farther ahead financially if you left the property empty for an extra month or two while waiting for a legitimate tenant to be found.
If you've been the victim of a fraud, including fake pay stubs, it's important that you get the local police department involved. Using fake income verification is a form of fraud, and the user can be charged with a felony. Once you get the law involved, it can be easier to recover your lost merchandise or to successfully evict your fraudulent tenant.
The Business of Fake Paycheck Stubs
People feel the need to use fake paycheck stubs for any number of reasons. Some are in desperate straits, looking to find a home for themselves and their family. Some sincerely think they can afford the payments, even if their proven income doesn't support this belief. Some are straight-out scammers and thieves looking to rip you off for massive amounts of money in high-end merchandise.
Some people may not even know that the pay stub they hand you is fake. Employers who pay their workers under the table often provide fake stubs to their workers when asked for them as a way to obtain housing or transportation. These small business owners can put any figures they like on these paycheck stubs with no regard for the truth. While it's seen as a service for those working in their shops, it's really a way to scam legitimate businesses.
Fake pay stubs are simple to get online, needing only a computer and printer. A simple search will pull up dozens of websites with pay stub templates. All you have to do is fill in the information and you can print out a legitimate-looking pay stub, all ready to hand over to your prospective landlord or loan officer. While this can be handy for self-employed people with no legitimate way to produce a pay stub, it's still a fraudulent act with a host of possible consequences, such as eviction and prosecution.
Look to Previous Employers
The most obvious way to find out if a pay stub is genuine is to contact the employer whose contact information is printed on it. Real check stubs will have business information included. Start by asking the person who gave you the check stub for permission to contact her employer. Her reaction should give you a clue about whether it's real or not.
If she agrees to your request, call the employer and let them know the situation. You'll have an answer in just a few minutes about whether the stub is authentic or not. If the person refuses permission, you'll have a reason to be suspicious. Don't call any alternate number the person gives you, as it could be to a friend that she has waiting to talk with you. Instead, look up the company online and call the number listed there. If it's a large enough business, ask for the HR department. If it's something smaller, simply ask for the owner of the business and speak with him.
Inspect the Physical Check Stub
Sometimes the physical condition of the check stub itself can be a red flag, giving you a reason to investigate further. All check stubs will contain the same basic information, including:
- Information about the business, such as name and contact information
- The name of the person being paid
- Gross pay amount
- Tax amounts for FICA, federal and other taxes
- Other deductions, such as for insurance
- Total net pay
As a business document, check stubs should be very straightforward. They will have a very plain font except for perhaps a company logo. All information should be neatly aligned, and the math should add up. There should be no spelling errors on the document, and it should be printed on quality paper.
Run the Numbers
Real check stubs don't have math errors on them, so taking a couple of minutes to do the math is a great way to double check the authenticity of the document. Use a calculator and figure out the earnings and deductions on the pay stub. If the numbers don't add up, it's likely that the pay stub is fake.
Accounting software is designed to align all the digits and decimal places automatically. If the numbers are off balance with the decimal places out of line, it's likely that it isn't a genuine article.
Use Employment and Income Verification Services
As the problems with fake income verification increase, more and more companies are simply relying on experts instead of asking for paycheck stubs. Income and employment verification services minimize risk and allow your applicant or potential tenant to prove his income without question. These services will verify someone's ability to pay by providing proof of employment and information on income amounts, using information coming straight from the employer.
These services can provide either basic employment information or highly detailed income verification, including bonuses, commissions, overtime payment and various deductions, showing a well-rounded financial overview of your potential tenant or purchaser. As these services have forms right on their websites, you can get information almost instantly on virtually anyone with whom you may have business dealings.
It's Worth Taking the Time
When doing business worth thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, it's worth the time and effort to go the extra mile to verify all the information someone gives you. Genuine applicants won't mind if you check for the truth; most of them will expect it. The only people who would object to check stub verification are those who are trying to pass off fake paycheck stubs as real ones. It's a self-correcting problem since those are the people with whom you don't want to do business anyway.
Victoria Bailey has owned and operated businesses for 25 years, including an award-winning gourmet restaurant and a rare bookstore. She spent time as a corporate training manager in the third-largest restaurant chain in its niche, but her first love will always be small and independent businesses. Bailey has written for USAToday, Coldwell Banker, and various restaurant magazines, and is the ghostwriter for a nationally-known food safety training guru.