It’s happened to many of us – you go to look at your credit report only to find that your once good credit score has dropped without a good reason. Upon further investigation you find a new inquiry on your report. The only problem is that you didn’t authorize it.
Unauthorized hard credit pulls do happen, but there are steps you can take to mitigate any damage – and ensure that your credit is safe.
What’s a Credit Pull?
Hard and soft credit pulls are when companies check your credit report. Soft pulls occur all the time, such as when a credit card company sends you a card offer. Those inquiries don’t show up on your report and don’t hurt your score. Hard pulls, however, do—and they stay on your credit for up to 2 years, dropping your score by as much as 15 points for the first 6 months. In order to do a hard pull, a creditor must have your express permission.
How is It Possible for an Unauthorized Credit Inquiry to Occur?
There are other reasons for an unauthorized credit inquiry besides identity theft. When you apply for a store credit card, for instance, you might see an inquiry from the bank that underwrites that card. As a result, you won’t see Big Name Store on your credit report doing the inquiry, you’ll see Issuing Bank Name instead.
If you didn’t know that bank was the issuer, you might think the inquiry is unauthorized. Employers, landlords, and other companies also do credit checks, and you might have authorized it by signing an application to rent, or for a job.
Regardless of what the actual reason turns out to be, it’s always important to investigate, because that credit inquiry could be the result of a scammer or identity thief checking to see if they can get credit in your name – and you’ll want to shut that down immediately. Here’s how you do that.
What to Do Following an Unauthorized Credit Inquiry
1. Contact the Creditor
The first step in dealing with an unauthorized credit inquiry is contacting the creditor listed as doing the pull. You’ll want to call them right away, and ask why they did the inquiry. Also get details on the account, such as the address or phone number on the account, the amount applied for or approved, and whether there’s a balance. If it becomes clear that you didn’t authorize the credit application yourself, tell the company and ask what their protocols are for that.
2. Report the Fraud
If you’re dealing with an identity fraud or unauthorized accounts in your name, you’ll want to go to the Federal Trade Commission website. There, you can download forms you’ll need to report the crime and get started cleaning up the mess.
3. File a Police Report
It’s important to file a report with youor local law enforcement. While they probably won’t do much, they will give you a case number, which you’ll need for the credit bureaus.
4. Freeze Your Credit Report
When you contact the credit bureaus, notify them of the fraud and have them put a freeze on your credit. That stops anyone from applying for credit in your name – including you. If you want to apply for credit in the future, you’ll need to contact the bureau again to have them unfreeze it.
An unauthorized credit inquiry isn’t always a life-altering, horrible thing; sometimes it is merely an error or something you forgot about. It can, however, be the first sign that you’re the victim of identity theft. Pay attention to your credit report, and take steps any time you see something that looks wrong.