This happens frequently with sketchy tenants. They have had a bad history with previous landlords and do not want you to talk to them. Be sure to get the address of the current rental. The name of the owner is of record at the county assessor’s office. Go find out if the name of the person given as the owner/landlord is the same name as the owner. If not, confront that person when you call for the reference to find out who they really are.The best way is to ask the person on the phone things that only the landlord could answer. The landlord would know how much the security deposit was and if it was all returned or not. If not why? The landlord would know the amount of rent and date due, start and end date of the lease agreement. Ask how many parking spaces were available to the tenant.If you ask someone who is faking it, these questions will confuse them.
Now the way this works is to casually question the tenant if you suspect that the reference they give you is bogus. Ask these questions in passing as they are filling out the application. Ask them how much their take home pay is and if they have tenant rental insurance, etc. You MUST always do a credit check. Information about previous addresses will not be included but previous evictions will be there. I use Smart Property Systems software because it automates most of what I have to do. They are coming out with a new brand for individuals who own and self manage rentals. It is called Ideal Landlord and is priced so everyone can afford to use it even if you only have one unit.