What are Fake Pay Stubs and How to Spot Them Easily [2024]

Person checking smartphone and holding ATM card

Did you know you can easily fall victim to fake pay stubs if you’re not careful enough?

In the US alone, there has been an increase of up to 12% in rental-application fraud practices over the last few years. Property managers have cited the COVID-19 pandemic as among the largest factors for the alarming surge in counterfeit application documents.

With all the various tools available online, falsifying pay stubs is a piece of cake.

Keep reading to discover how you can spot fake pay stubs and safeguard yourself in the process!

Key Takeaways

  • Fake pay stubs contain erroneous and fabricated information, which include outdated employment details, incorrect tax withholdings, etc.
  • The common details found in a fake pay stub are intermixing the use of the letter ‘O’ and zero, inconsistent employee and employer information and rounded numbers.
  • You can also request a W-2 Form, Form 4506, and bank statements or contact the applicant or tenant’s employer to check the validity of their pay stub.
  • It is crucial to report the use of fake pay stubs to the authorities or seek legal assistance to avoid criminal liability and possible penalties.
  • Fake pay stubs are often used to evade taxes, conceal illegal activities, or attempt to qualify for loan and rental applications.

What are Fake Pay Stubs?

Fake pay stubs

Fake pay stubs contain fabricated and inconsistent information, such as incorrect income and outdated employment details. They can seem real to business owners with limited background on how to spot false pay stubs from genuine ones.

Pay stubs are typically required by landlords, banks,and lendersersto verify and assess the applicant’s financial capacity to pay for their desired loan, rental, or property.

The danger with unverified pay stubs lies in how fraudsters may overturn the liabilities against property owners for possible violations of the Fair Housing Act. Dishonest applicants may falsely accuse landlords of refusing homeownership. Late payments could also pile up since the applicant lied about their income and cash assets.

How to Recognize Fake Pay Stubs: Common Signs

Two person looking at a document, held by the man

Fortunately, there are different ways to identify and differentiate fake pay stubs from real ones. Below are four surefire ways to do just that:

#1. No Difference Between ‘O’ and ‘0’

Believe it or not, the simple mistake of interchanging the letter ‘O’ with the number ‘0’ is one of the telltale signs of a fake pay stub. Fraudsters often commit this mistake.

Meanwhile, employers and professionals are highly unlikely to notice such a minor mistake.

#2. Incorrect or Inconsistent Information

Genuine pay stubs should contain complete and consistent information. Firstly, the employee’s legal name, contact information, and address should be spelled out and enumerated completely and correctly. The employer’s business address and details must also be listed properly.

The calculations for the gross and net pay should be accurate. Any inconsistencies with the employee and employer’s information, as well as with the rates reflected in the pay stub, are more than enough proof to doubt its authenticity.

#3. Numbers are Rounded

When calculating the gross and net pay, it is highly unlikely to yield perfectly rounded numbers.

Fraudsters exaggerate the numbers on their pay stubs to the point where they do not bother to check whether the numbers make sense or not. Remember, real pay stubs include tax withholdings and gross and net salaries. Hence, the lack of decimals and cents clearly indicates manipulated income information.

#4. Unprofessional Appearance

Real pay stubs look professionally done. The fonts and digits look consistent and aligned. There should not be any misspelled words, missing characters, or blurry portions in the pay stub.

You can use Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to check the EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) data on paperless pay stubs. The EXIF data contains key details about the pay stub, including the date and time when the pay stub was created, along with the file’s source.

Other Methods of Verifying Pay Stubs

At times, you might need to dig a little deeper to verify the difference between a valid and a fake pay stub. There are fake pay stubs that are so meticulously crafted that judging them at face value won’t do.

Here are additional steps you can take to check whether a pay stub is real or not:

  • Ask for a W-2 Form. A W-2 Form contains an employee’s total earnings and withheld taxes in a given tax year. It is a supplemental document that can help verify whether the numbers on the applicant’s pay stub are correct and reliable.
  • Call the employer on the pay stub. Contact the employer declared in the pay stub to confirm whether the applicant is currently employed or not and whether they have any affiliations with the employer or company. Lastly, check if the employer or company information is real or bogus?
  • Request a Form 4506. This form declares a taxpayer’s tax return information. Requesting the Form 4506 tax transcript typically requires the consent or authorization of the taxpayer. A fraudster would likely decline or try to keep you from obtaining this form.
  • Ask for bank statements. Bank statements show a person’s deposit history. You can use bank statements to compare the consistency in the net pay declared in an applicant’s pay stub. The rates on the pay stubs and bank statements should match, otherwise it may be falsified.

What to Do When You Spot a Fake Pay Stub?

The best course of action to take when you spot a fake pay stub is to alert the proper authorities or seek legal assistance. Fake pay stubs could indicate other illegal acts on the part of the applicant or the employer.

By seeking legal assistance or reporting false documents to authorities, you protect your business from any possible association or indirect involvement with fraudulent acts. It will also keep you from shouldering penalties and financial consequences.

Reasons People Fake Pay Stubs

A man looking at a fake pay stub

While the reasons behind using fake pay stubs may vary, it is still something that should not be tolerated or overlooked. Here are some of them:

#1. Evading Taxes

Tax evasion often goes hand-in-hand with creating fake pay stubs. Despite the IRS’s stringent procedures for monitoring the tax obligations of every business owner, there are still those who get away with it and get tax refunds by declaring an excess in the taxes they have paid.

#2. Qualifying for Loans

Some loan applicants tend to manipulate the information declared on their pay stubs if they cannot meet the requirements set by the bank or lender. They double their income to try and convince the loan officer of their financial aptness to pay for the loan amount.

#3. Leasing an Apartment

Pay stubs are a go-to reference of landlords in verifying a prospective tenant’s income and financial records. An applicant may create a false pay stub in an attempt to have their rent application approved.

#4. Hiding Illegal Activities

Unfortunately, some employers are guilty of generating fake pay stubs. Employers who have been engaging in dishonest and unlawful practices manipulate the data reflected on employees' pay stubs to conceal their criminal offenses, even if it means compromising the security of their staff.

Fake Pay Stubs FAQ

#1. What information goes on pay stubs?

A legitimate pay stub must contain employee and employer information, pay rate, gross wages, taxes, insurance deductions, retirement benefits, wage garnishments, etc.

#2. Should you report fake pay stubs to the authorities?

Yes. Creating and distributing fake pay stubs and similar bogus documents is illegal and qualifies as a criminal offense. If you fail to report any activity involving the use of fabricated pay stubs, you may be made liable for penalties and serious repercussions.

#3. Can a bank check whether a pay stub is fake?

Banks normally do not check a pay stub’s authenticity. However, you can request for a tenant or applicant to include a month’s worth of bank statements in their proof of income. Bank statements usually reflect deposits from employers, and you can compare that information with the gross and net salaries in their pay stub.

#4. How to detect fake pay stubs?

You can detect fake pay stubs by checking the consistency of the information enumerated in the pay stub. Look for any typos, calculation errors, rounded numbers, blurry letters and numbers, as well as intermixing the letter ‘O’ and the number ‘0’.

Final Thoughts

It is always ideal to be extra careful, especially now that the digital era makes it easier to create fake pay stubs.

Falling victim to fabricated pay stubs could mean a significant loss in ROI for your business. If you are an employee whose employer engages in fraudulent practices, you could also face serious repercussions. Aside from the tips enumerated in this article, you can also use our online paystub generator to protect yourself or your business from fraudsters.

Our paystub generator comes with easy-to-use templates, the most recent and accurate information available, and a built-in calculator to ensure you generate pay stubs with 100% correct and reliable information.


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