From the Forum – Rental application identity theft concern – what can we do?

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Rental application identity theft concern – what can we do?

“Filled out a rental application with a lot of PII, then owner says they “went with another applicant.” The timing makes everything seem very fishy and now we’re concerned with identity theft. Is there anything we can/should be doing? More information below:

Found a rental on craiglist and met with the owner last week. We indicated that we wanted to take the place and they agreed to stop showing it to other people. The following day they sent along the rental application and the lease. We asked if we could provide pay stubs, our current landlord’s reference, and bank account statements in lieu of the full application. They did not respond for three days. We called on Saturday to ask what was going on and they indicated that we should fill out the full application and things could move forward. Sent the application this morning (Monday) and immediately received an email saying they “went with another applicant.” SO called them this afternoon, but the call was sent to voice mail.

We had a walk through of the unit, we verified their employment, and did other bits of Google stalking that led us to believe they were legitimate. Our take home pay is over 400% of the monthly rent, we have no debt, and we have a good relationship with our current landlord, so we can’t imagine they’d have a problem with the application. Can the Office of the Tenant Advocate help? Should we file a police report? Would love any advice.”

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44 Comment

  • To me, it sounds like they may have thought you were fishy by refusing to fill our their application form, which others likely did not hesitate to, and passed for a more cooperative tenant. That would raise red flags for me as a landlord.

    • Agree. There are plenty of qualified renters around this town, and a potential renter who balks at filling out the required application would seem fishy to me.

    • As a landlord, if you don’t want to fill out an application all sorts of alarms start going off. I get you don’t want to give up some info like SSN (which I won’t take from people for their comfort and mine) but not giving other info like previous address and previous landlords info really makes the landlord suspicious and will probably take you out of the running for an apartment.

  • A police report? Exactly what crime will you say has been committed? The crime of not giving you the apartment you think you deserve?

  • Other than them rejecting you, do you have any evidence that they’re not legit? Right now you have no evidence of a crime, so going to MPD would waste everyone’s time. You’re also not their tenant, and you don’t claim to have been discriminated against on the basis of membership in a protected class, so forget DC intervention in the form of the Tenant Advocate or Human Rights Office. Just keep an eye on your credit report for a while.

  • This all sounds pretty normal to me. I wouldn’t worry about it.

  • Sounds to me like someone else filled out the application before you and they accepted that.

  • Sounds pretty normal to me. I wouldn’t worry about it.

  • What do you do? Sign up for credit karma for free to track your credit score and usage for the next few months if you want but you sound like a bit of a hypochondriac.

    You gave them a pay stub and a monthly bank statement neither of which can alone or combined really be used to steal your identity.

    Is this the first time your applied for an apartment in DC because it sounds like nearly every experience I’ve had getting an apartment in this town for the last decade. the rental market is crazy and every landlord has 20 applicants for every unit. Every showing I’ve gone to in the past 5 years had atleast 6-8 other people there diluting the 10 minutes I was there. He gave you his required forms to fill out, you wanted to do something else which was outside his standard process., more of a hassle or risk than he wanted. He probably went to the next person in line and signed them up as he had basically had the unit off the market for the better part of a week (and during the weekend which is prime showing time), and you were taking too long or he simply didn’t want to deal with you.

    Why you would go to DC tenant advocate to help is beyond me. What do you expect them to do for you? Did you give him a deposit which you didn’t mention, because otherwise he isn’t required to rent to you and is entirely within his rights to rent it to someone else. I’d start looking for other places, and when the rental agency or landlord gives you the forms they want you to fill out, I suggest just filling them out.

  • They were probably accepting applications for a few potential tenants at once, knowing that some might flake out or turn out to be unqualified.

  • So, other than not being selected as a renter (do you assume you were the only qualified applicant?) it doesn’t seem you have any reason to think identity theft is a concern.

  • Likely they just went with another candidate and were less then upfront about having other applicants, but I believe you can flag your info with the credit agencies in case anything fishy comes up like a new credit card being opened or something

  • I second what the first comment by anon says.

  • There is nothing fishy at all going on here. You wouldn’t fill out the full application, which raised a red flag for the landlord, and by the time you came to your senses they had already found somebody else.

  • justinbc

    Agree with basically everyone else. This is standard practice. None of the info you provided is really all that useful or hard to obtain if someone wanted to steal your identity. I suggest you take this as a learning device and approach future applications accordingly.

  • You didn’t get the apartment because they found a more cooperative tenant.

    The housing market is rough, if you want special treatment you may well lose a place even if your income is 4000x times the monthly rent.

    To accuse the landlord of doing something shady or trying to steal your identify seems unfair unless there is additional information you have not shared with us.

  • OP here. We’ve more or less established that the situation was a result of some really bad miscommunication. He agreed to everything in person and then completely reneged and became uncommunicative. Not really someone we want to deal with anyway. But probably not a threat. So we’ll follow our credit carefully for awhile and otherwise let it go.

    I guess we were naive (only gone through this process once in DC, several years ago). It’s a big deal for us to give our SSN, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc to complete strangers from Craigslist because we’re financially responsible, not because there is something to hide. It’s a big deal to give approval for a credit check because every inquiry lowers credit.

    But we’ll start filing out the Found-This-On-The-Internet-In-1999 application forms in full and hope for the best. This market sucks.

    • Are you being facetious, or did they actually ask for your credit card numbers? That is not standard on any rental application I’ve ever seen (and I would not provide that info).

      Social security number – yes (easiest way to run a credit check)
      Checking account number – on every check you write anyway

    • “It’s a big deal to give approval for a credit check because every inquiry lowers credit.” Not as much as you think it does. As long as you’re not applying for multiple revolving credit accounts, you probably won’t see a dip in your FICO score.

      • justinbc

        A hard inquiry such as this would only stay on the report for a year, so unless you’re planning on applying to dozens of places, and then going and buying a car or something significant in the same year, you’ve probably got nothing to worry about.

        • Even then, groups of inquiries for things like mortgages, cars and apartments are usually treated like one query if they’re all around the same time. The score algorithm takes into account that people shop around for certain things, whereas multiple revolving credit applications will lower your score a bit. But only a bit. There are other factors that are weighted much more heavily.

        • Apartment rental applications can also trigger either a hard inquiry or a soft inquiry, depending on what method/company the landlord uses for the credit report/score pull. Hard inquiries will generally only lower your FICO by a couple of points as justinbc says, so it would not have that much of an impact unless you were applying for a bunch of apartments (but one probably wouldn’t do that anyway, since those application fees would add up) OR unless you wanted the absolute optimal interest rate for a mortgage (which you wouldn’t, if you’re renting an apt.) or a car loan. And soft inquiries won’t affect the credit score at all. Also, if a landlord runs a background check that includes a credit check–like what an employer would do–that usually falls into the category of a soft inquiry. But if that’s a major concern, you can always ask the landlord whether they do a soft pull or hard pull OR ask if they’d be willing to accept your credit report/score that you pulled yourself. From what I’ve seen in my experience with competitive rental markets (DC and New York) the credit check is pretty standard. (If they did ask for credit card *numbers* though, that would be weird and would raise a red flag with me.)

    • Why on earth would you provide a credit card number? That is bizarre. Everything else seems legit, but a credit card number?

      • As a new landlord, every rental application template that I came across included a line for social security number (in order to run a credit check), plus a line for a credit card number, I guess to cover any application fees, or to pay the company running the credit check. I did collect social security numbers from a couple applicants without anyone questioning it, but I told them to pay the application fee with cash or check, did not collect anyone’s credit card number. (Wouldn’t even know what to do with it.)

    • I posted below from my landlord perspective and just saw this. Asking for CC# is ridiculous. So I amend my earlier comment to the extent the landlord was being a dope in asking for this. But a credit report is a standard ask. I want to know how much a would-be tenant owes and to whom, bc as I noted, those people are all in line ahead of me if it hits the fan for you financially. It’s by no means a stress-free situation for the landlord, bc you really are taking a big leap of faith on people who you don’t know.

    • Hey OP, I would check the attitude if you are serious about getting an apartment in DC. Landlords want tenants who can pay and who are going to be easy to work with. Starting the process out with attitude and expecting special treatment for commonly accepted procedures isn’t going to make you shine for any reputable landlord. If your first reaction to being rejected from a reasonable application process is to call MPD and the tenant advocacy group then I can’t think of any landlord that is ever going to want to deal with you no matter what your income is.

    • nightborn

      I own a place in Maryland next to a metro stop that I rent out using Craigslist. Pay stubs and your bank statements alone would not suffice for me – I want to know credit scores. No matter how much money you currently have, I need to know you pay your bills on time. I won’t accept anyone with a low credit score, too much of a risk. Refusing to provide credit score info would make me go with another candidate who was willing, even if they weren’t the highest earner. I understand feeling nervous, but I have to protect myself too.

  • Hilariously, I may have been on the flip side of this. I’d applied for an apartment, the complex agreed to lease to me and stop showing, and when I went back to Craigslist to check the listing, I noticed that they’d re-listed it for $300/month more than I’d agreed to pay.

    Unsurprisingly, they came back to me to see if I’d agree to a higher price; we had a long, heated discussion, and ultimately I took possession on Saturday, but ONLY after talking to everyone and their mothers about how I didn’t appreciate their scamming.

    I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that they’d promised the same apartment to someone else in the interim, and that that person got screwed, just like I almost got screwed!

    I don’t blame apartment managers one bit for trying to take advantage of the crazy rental rates happening right now–especially in a newly-sexy area where the prior tenant stayed 6 years–but it’s still frustrating, no matter which end you’re on!

  • My husband and I were on the other end of this this week. We posted our place for rent for $4700 and then got a call from a woman asking if we were really offering $1800. The woman forwarded my husband the ad she was looking at and it turns out someone had taken all of the pictures from our ad, reposted as a new ad at a much lower price, and asked people to submit an application with PII that went to the reposter. My husband works in cyber security and was able to track down a detective at MPD that is handling these types of cases. The detective told him to call 911 and file a police report so that they could get it in the system and open up an investigation. My husband also contacted craigslist to report the fraudulent posting.

    • Yup that happened to my wife and I a few years ago. We had our condo for sale and received a call from the front desk saying someone was here to see the rental. Spoke to the person and said the ad was on craig’s list with pictures of our place but for rent instead of for sale – at a very cheap price.

      so many scammers out there…

      • justinbc

        Even worse, I’ve had friends who’ve actually been given tours of places (I’m guessing they found out the key combinations or something) and paid security deposits only to have the folks disappear. I always warn people moving into the District that if the rent really seems too out of line for the neighborhood then you should be extremely skeptical of it.

    • I think this is common. When I was looking for an apartment a couple of years ago, I had to start entering a minimum rent because there were all of these crazy good deals (like $750 for a large 1-bedroom with parking in Dupont!!), and I started noticing the pics were the same as other places I’d seen with believable prices. But on these they changed all of the contact info so there was no direct info for contacting the actual owner of the unit.

    • Yeah that same thing happened to me except I found it on craigslist with the stolen pictures and a different phone number to call. I called the number and threaten to report them and turn the number into the police. The pulled it off craigslist right away.

  • Yes, call the police because they went with someone else. How dare they not choose YOU!!! Someone needs to be held accountable. Someone has got to pay for all these children! Wait wrong-

  • As a small-time (2 units) landlord, I get lots of applications when I have an apartment available — perhaps in part bc I actually seek to place rent slightly below market so I get a lot of applications from which to choose. And I always stress to applicants that being first doesn’t mean a whole lot; being best does.

    I view rental applications as the single most critical way in which I can protect my interests in an otherwise extremely tenant-friendly jurisdiction like DC. It’s the only time I have to check out a complete stranger before I lock myself into a legal contract with them, in which the law favors them in almost every potential dispute scenario. So I want to know rental history, work/income history, and your other credit obligations, bc if you go broke I’m probably the least well-equipped person to protect my interests if your credit card companies, student lenders, etc. come after whatever assets you have, and if you trash my highest value personal asset, I’m probably just SOL at the end of the day, or at least have to go through an expensive and protracted process to be made whole. My basic assumption is that, if things go bad in the course of a tenancy, I lose. So I take the application really seriously on the notion that my best defense against disaster is picking a great tenant, even at the expense of turning down perfectly good ones who may have applied earlier.

    From OP’s own description, I’d see an instant red flag. From the get-go, the prospective tenants did not want to comply with the landlord’s request for full application information and thought they had a better idea. If you don’t want to provide the requested application information, what else might you not want to comply with in the course of a tenancy? Why would you presume that I’d unilaterally reduce my due diligence on you, at the only point when I get to do due diligence? How hard is it going to be to finalize the lease if/when you don’t like terms that I’ve given a lot of thought to over many years of doing this? The very first interaction would tell me I’m dealing with someone who is wont to second-guess me at the most critical time for me in a relationship with a tenant. So, all things being roughly equal with another applicant, I’m probably counting that against you. Maybe that’s reading too much into it and a little paranoid on my part as a landlord, but it’s the same basis on which OP assumes he’s getting his identity stolen and Google-stalked the prospective landlord. If there’s more than one qualified applicant, you’ve got to realize it’s a bit of a beggars-can’t-be-choosers situation for renters.

    • justinbc

      Yep, we purposely list our units below market rate as well because I want to be able to choose from quality tenants who will hopefully want to stay long term, not simply fill a spot and make a lot of quick money. I’ve passed on multiple applicants who refused to provide application data. There’s always someone else if you don’t want to do it.

      • and it is easier to eat a month or two of rent then end up with someone you have to go to court to get rid of

    • Thank you – seeing it from the landlord’s side has really helped our perspective. After working with the same landlord for several years, it’s easy to forget that the same level of trust and understanding isn’t going to exist with someone new.

  • sorry to say this, but it sounds like someone else saw the unit and perhaps they just liked the other applicant more… sorry.

  • You lost me at this: “We indicated that we wanted to take the place and they agreed to stop showing it to other people.” On what planet would that happen? The landlord is open to all applicants until someone signs a lease and forks over the security deposit.

  • If you are concerned about identity theft, you can order a copy of your credit report for free at and look for any new accounts that aren’t yours. You can find more info at

  • That is kinda weird. We went through the same thing when moving to DC. Had to fill out tons of rental applications and were told they went with other people even though they seemed like legit landlords and we are good, responsible tenants who can afford the rentals we looked at. The better side of me wants to think it’s just a competitive market and landlords can pick and chose who they like more than who is first to the punch. But that is a good concern you have to think that it could be a scam. I mean, it is pretty insane if you think about how much information we willingly give to complete strangers. Hope that’s not the case, but when in doubt, maybe try using a third party like a leasing agent to help you out? Good luck!

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