Hard Inquiry Without Permission: What to Do
No one sits around waiting excitedly for the chance to deal with issues on their credit report. But if you think that someone’s pulled a hard inquiry of your credit without permission, you’ll want to act quickly to make sure that it’s taken care of correctly — it could be a sign of fraud or identity theft.
Who can check my credit?
Not just anyone can pull your credit reports. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) — in conjunction with other laws — was put into place in 1970 and amended over the years in order to protect consumers by limiting who can check your credit report and how they can use that information.
You’re allowed to pull your own credit report for free once per year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus through the website AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also get a free copy of your credit report in certain other situations — for example, if it contains inaccurate information, if someone has taken action against you because of information in your report or if you’re seeking public assistance.
Beyond that, lenders, employers, government agencies and others are only allowed to pull your credit report for specific purposes, such as:
- Reviewing an application for credit
- Reviewing an insurance application
- Determining whether you’re eligible for public assistance
- Employment purposes, but only with your written consent
- Certain business transactions, such as applying to rent an apartment
- Court orders, such as those related to child support
- With your written permission
There are certain types of credit pulls that can be made without your permission. These are called soft inquiries, and they won’t affect your credit score. They’re typically done to see if you qualify for certain offers, like the credit card or refinancing letters you get in the mail.
Hard vs. soft credit inquiries
When it comes to pulling your credit report, not all pulls are treated the same. There are hard inquiries and soft inquiries, and both the rules around them and the effect they have on your credit score are very different.
Hard inquiries typically require your written permission. These occur when you’re applying for a credit card or personal loan, trying to rent an apartment and other situations where a business is attempting to assess your financial health for a specific purpose. They may also occur in certain situations without your permission, such as in response to court orders and child support cases.
Hard inquiries generally stay on your credit report for up to two years and can decrease your credit score by up to five points. If you have a lot of hard inquiries over a short period of time, it could be viewed as a sign that you’re a financial risk because you’re applying for more debt than you can afford. If, however, you’re simply shopping around for a specific type of loan though and have multiple hard inquiries within a 14- to 45- day window, they are all treated as a single inquiry.
Soft inquiries occur when you pull your own credit report and when lenders review your credit for the purposes of preapproving a loan or prescreening you for an offer. They may also occur when an employer reviews your credit or an insurance company needs to provide you with a quote.
And while soft inquiries can be pulled without your permission, they don’t affect your credit score and they’re only visible to you.
If you’d like to limit soft inquiries, you can use the website OptOutPrescreen.com to opt out of the prescreening process that companies use to send you offers for items like credit cards, mortgage refinancing and insurance.
How to find a hard inquiry without permission
The best way to find unauthorized inquiries is to keep a close eye on your credit report.
Request your credit report for free once per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Your report will show you any hard inquiries that have occurred within the past couple of years, and if you spread those three report requests out over the year, you should be able to catch any inquiries without permission before too much time passes.
You can also enroll in a credit monitoring service, which tracks your credit report and alerts you of any changes that look suspicious. There are a number of free services available, and this can be a helpful way to keep an eye on things in the months between your free credit report pulls.
It’s important to remember that there are legitimate reasons for there to be hard inquiries on your credit report. If you’ve recently applied for a loan or a credit card, for example, those inquiries will show up. You’ll want to think back through your recent activity before deciding that an inquiry happened without your permission.
What to do if you find a hard inquiry without permission
So, what do you do if you find an unauthorized hard inquiry on your credit report? There are a few steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Contact the company that made the hard inquiry. It’s possible that your credit report was pulled by mistake, so the first step is to check with the company that pulled it. You can ask them for proof that you authorized the inquiry; if they can’t provide it, you can then ask them to correct the mistake with the credit bureaus.
- If you suspect fraud, protect yourself. You can freeze your credit, which prevents lenders from accessing your credit report and can be lifted at any time. You can also place a fraud alert on your credit report, which makes it harder for someone to open a new line of credit in your name by requiring businesses to verify your identity. Plus, you can report the incident through IdentityTheft.gov — it’s run by the Federal Trade Commission and it’ll help you create a customized plan for dealing with the issue.
- Dispute the unauthorized inquiry. Finally, you can dispute the unauthorized inquiry directly with each credit bureau that’s reporting it (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian). The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides instructions and sample letters that you can use to properly identify the issue, explain that you’d like it removed and send that information to the right place.
Frequently asked questions
Hard inquiries can stay on your credit report for up to two years.
Most hard inquiries aren’t a big deal, only reducing your credit score by a few points. However, they can become a bigger issue if you have a lot of hard inquiries in a short period of time, or if you have other negative items on your credit report.
You do have the right to sue for willful violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). You should consult with an attorney if you are considering this route.