Your credit report will tell you who has viewed your credit record. You may occasionally see a record of an inquiry that you don’t recognize. When this happens, you should take note of it but don’t panic.
An inquiry that you don’t recognize could be an early sign of identity theft, but more often it’s a legitimate inquiry under an unfamiliar name or a simple mistake. You should be able to find out what happened fairly quickly, and if there’s a hard inquiry on your report that you didn’t authorize you can get it removed.
Who is Allowed to View Your Credit Report?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) limits access to your credit report to those with a “permissible purpose”. Entities with permissible purposes include:
- Lenders or credit card issuers where you have applied for credit.
- Companies who wish to prequalify you for credit or insurance.
- Creditors with whom you hold active accounts.
- Debt collection agencies holding your accounts.
- Insurance companies underwriting or considering underwriting your policies.
- Employers or prospective employers (with permission).
- Landlords, utility, and phone companies.
- Some government agencies.
Credit reporting companies must keep a record of requests to view your credit report, and that record must be accessible to you. In most cases, a record of all inquiries within the last year is included in your credit report.
What’s the Difference Between Hard and Soft Inquiries?
There are two types of inquiries on your credit report and it’s important to understand how they get there and how they are different.
Hard pulls or hard inquiries occur when someone checks your credit as part of a lending decision. You must authorize these inquiries. When you sign an application for credit you authorize a hard inquiry. These are some examples of actions that can generate a hard inquiry on your credit:
- Loan or Credit Card Applications
- Requests for a Credit Limit Increase
- Apartment Rental Applications
- Car Rental Applications (If You Don’t Have a Credit Card)
- Utility or Phone Applications
Hard inquiries are visible to anyone who views your credit report. They affect your credit and will remain on your credit report for 2 years. They generally have little or no impact on your credit after one year, however.
Soft inquiries or soft pulls can be made without your authorization, as long as there’s a valid reason for the inquiry. Examples of soft pulls include:
- Checking Your Own Credit
- Pre-Qualified Credit Card Offers
- Pre-Qualified Insurance Quotes
- Employment Background Checks
Only you can see the record of soft pulls on your credit report and soft pulls have no impact on your credit.
Why Do I See an Inquiry That I Don’t Recognize?
You may see an inquiry on your record that you don’t recognize. That could be an early sign of identity theft: someone could have applied for credit in your name. Other explanations are much more common, though.
Here are some reasons why you might not recognize an inquiry:
- If you applied for a loan, a loan servicer may have sent your information to several lenders for quotes. Each of those lenders may have placed an inquiry on your credit report. This is common for car loans and mortgages.
- You may have applied for credit with a retailer and their partner bank may have performed the credit check.
- An employer, landlord or utility company may have contracted a different company for applicant screening. The inquiry will appear in the contractor’s name.
- You may have signed a document authorizing a credit check without realizing it. The language authorizing a credit check may be buried in the fine print of an application, where it’s easy to miss.
- A company that you authorized to make an inquiry may do business under a different name than the one you recognize.
These are the most likely explanations for an inquiry that you don’t recognize. You should still check to be sure. It’s not likely, but an unauthorized inquiry could be a sign of identity theft.
What to Do if you See an Unauthorized Inquiry
An unauthorized inquiry on your credit report is not a reason to panic, but you should still look into it.
Here are some steps you can take to determine who made the inquiry and why:
- Call the company. Your credit report should contain contact details for the company making the request. Contact the company and inquire. Ask why the request was made. If the contact details aren’t there, internet searches may reveal them. They may also give you company details that could clarify why the request was made.
- Dispute unauthorized requests. If you cannot verify the identity of the company that made the request, or if there was no legitimate reason for the company to make the request, send dispute letters to all three credit reporting companies asking them to remove the inquiry from your record.
- Request proof of authorization. If the requesting company does not provide information over the phone, write a letter requesting proof of authorization and send it to them by certified mail. If you believe that a company knowingly requested your credit report without your authorization, you can report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission. You may also wish to consult an attorney if you believe the intent of the request was malicious.
- Consider identity theft. If there is no apparent reason for the request, or if the company shows authorization that you did not provide, you may be looking at a case of identity theft. Consider making fraud reports to the credit reporting companies or requesting a security freeze on your credit report. You may also wish to file an identity theft report with the FTC.
In most cases, a simple call to the company that made the request will clarify the situation. You should still look into any inquiry that you don’t recognize.
Only companies with legitimate reasons can access your credit report. Hard inquiries on your credit report can only be made with your permission. Your credit report contains a list of everyone who has viewed your credit report.
An inquiry that you don’t recognize is probably a legitimate inquiry under an unfamiliar name or a simple mistake. You should still be sure to verify the source of the inquiry to be sure it’s not a case of identity theft.