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Someone Pulled My Credit Without My Approval. Can I Dispute It?

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If you’re someone who keeps an eye on their credit scores and reports (good job, by the way), you will likely notice if something shows up on there that you didn’t expect. That’s what happened to one of our commenters.

I recently got married and had my name changed. My landlord noticed on my proof of insurance that my name has changed. When they updated my name on their file, it automatically pulled a hard inquiry on my credit without my consent. Is it legal to pull a hard inquiry for updating [your] last name?

“The short answer is ‘no,’ it is not legal for someone to place a hard inquiry on your credit file without specific permission to do so,” according to an email Bruce McClary, the vice president of public relations and communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. However, he said “we should keep in mind that this could be an unintentional error on the part of the data provider or an inaccurate listing created by the credit reporting agency.”

What Does That Really Mean?

Let’s make sure we’re all clear — inquiries are prompted when you or a lender accesses your credit reports. But there are two types of inquiries, prompted by two different types of report reviews. A hard inquiry is created when you’re actively trying to secure new credit, like when you’re shopping around for a new credit card or mortgage rates. On the other hand, a soft inquiry (which doesn’t affect your credit) isn’t created by credit comparison shopping — think of those promotional fliers you get in the mail saying you’re “pre-approved.” Credit reviews done by insurance companies are also supposed to be considered soft inquiries.

So, Why Does a Hard Inquiry Matter?

There are five main factors that impact your credit, one of which is hard inquiries. Although it is one of the smaller influencers — credit inquiries generally make up 10% of the points in your credit scores — this search for credit is still appearing on your reports, typically for up to 24 months. So, every time you apply for a loan or fill out a credit card application, this is documented on your reports.

Legalities aside, what impact would that one hard inquiry have on our commenter’s overall credit? Minimal, according to McClary.

“A single inquiry accounts for a microscopic percentage of your overall credit score, so it may be one of those situations where the effort to dispute the item is disproportionate to the impact on the credit score,” he said. “Ultimately, the decision to proceed is up to the individual.”

Deciding to Dispute

First, our commenter should verify she is seeing a hard inquiry impact her score and not just the report of a soft inquiry. Once this is confirmed, if our commenter does decide to dispute the inquiry, she has a few options. Disputing errors on your credit report is something you can do on your own or you can turn to a professional credit repair agency for help. Either way, these are the four steps a dispute requires.

  1. Pull your credit reports from each of the three major bureaus. Not every bureau receives the same information, nor do they share information with each other, so it’s a good idea to review all three to see where the errors are and with whom you’ll need to file a dispute. You can get a free copy of your credit reports from each of the big three agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
  2. Write a dispute letter. This should outline what the problem is and your arguments as to why the reported information is incorrect. Make sure you are clear and concise in what you write. Remember: You must file a separate dispute for every item you feel is wrong on your report.
  3. Gather accompanying documentation. The more evidence you have to show the item is incorrect, the stronger your case will be. Make sure you don’t send original versions of any of the documents — only submit copies.
  4. File the dispute letter and accompanying documentation. If sending this in the mail, make sure you send it via Certified Mail so you can track the paperwork and confirm it was received. Remember: You’ll need to send this information to each bureau that is reporting incorrect information.

Keeping an Eye on Your Credit

Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the bureau(s) have 30 days to respond to your dispute and remedy the mistake if they verify it is in fact a mistake. (Note: There are a few situations where it may take 45 days.) However, that doesn’t mean you should just assume your credit scores will improve after that time. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit to see the effects of your dispute. You can see two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Image: AndreyPopov

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