Though disputing unauthorized inquiries is less common than
disputing incorrect information, it's likely to be worth the
effort. For one thing, inquiries may have a negative effect on your
credit score and could cost you a loan approval or lower interest
rate, particularly if there are several of them. More important, an
unrecognized inquiry could be an early sign that you're about to
become a victim of identity theft.
What should you do if you see an inquiry on your credit report,
but don't remember authorizing it? The process is a little bit
different than that for disputing negative credit account
Make sure you weren't being prescreened
Just because you don't recognize an inquiry doesn't mean it's not
legit. Check your credit report carefully to make sure the inquiry
wasn't done for promotional purposes, in advance of offering you a
credit card or other loan, for example. Lenders planning to extend
such offers are allowed to view your credit report without your
permission, but their inquiries should be clearly marked as
promotional on your credit report.
These inquiries aren't a red flag for fraud, and they're
" inquiries. A "
" inquiry typically occurs when you do something to request credit
(such as applying for a credit card or loan). Such inquiries appear
on your credit report when it is sent to creditors, and will lower
your credit score slightly, typically by five points or less, for
up to 12 months. Soft inquiries, on the other hand, have no effect
on your credit score. Besides pre-screening, other soft inquiries
include those from employers or insurance companies, as well as
those from current creditors who are simply reviewing your account.
(If you like, you can choose to opt out of pre-screening, either
for five years or permanently unless you opt back in. To learn
or call (888) 567-8688.
Check your calendar
You don't recognize the inquiry, and it wasn't marked as
promotional. But have you gotten an insurance quote, a new account
with a utility or rented a new place? Any of those could result in
a legitimate credit inquiry.
"A common source of confusion is when someone applies for a
retail store account," says Rod Griffin, director of public
education at Experian. Although a store card is branded with the
store's name, most retailers contract with banks or other lenders
to actually issue the cards and service the account. "The name of
the lender will be on the inquiry," Griffin says. "People don't
recognize it because it doesn't have the name of the retail store."
Similarly, if you've applied for a job that requires a credit check
(and if so, the company has to request your permission to check
your credit), a third-party company that provides employment
screening may be the one that checks your credit.
If you've retained the paperwork from your store card or job
application, it may name the organization that will actually be
checking your credit report. Or you may be able to deduce who it
was based on the date of the inquiry. But if after reviewing your
activities you still don't recognize the inquiry, it's time to take
Ask for more information
You need to know more about whether and when you authorized the
credit inquiry, or if it was legally initiated. The easiest first
step is to call the company that did the inquiry and ask for more
information. "If you first want to make sure you truly do not know
who made the inquiry, then by all means start with a phone call,"
says Marc Bourne, vice president, Know It All Intelligence Group,
which provides employer screening and investigations.
The advantage to doing this is that you may clear the question
up quickly since most inquiries are legit. "You might not recognize
the name, but it turns out to be the lending arm of a company
you're doing business with or a new utility," says Liz Weston,
columnist for MSN Money and author of "Your Credit Score." "It
doesn't hurt to dispute it, but my experience has been these kinds
of inquiries tend to be someone with a permissible purpose."
The disadvantage of calling is that it may be a waste of time.
"Certain creditors will not give you any information over the
phone," Bourne says. "You could wind up sitting on hold for 35
minutes just to find out that you have to contact them by mail.
That's why we suggest doing everything in writing." The added
advantage is that this creates a record of your dispute whereas a
phone call may not.
Ask for proof
"If they have your authorization or what they think is your
authorization, they will send a copy of what you signed. Make sure
it really is your signature and information," Bourne says. "Make
sure it explicitly grants the company permission to pull a credit
report. Especially for employment purposes, it may say 'public
records' or 'criminal records,' but if it doesn't explicitly say
'credit report,' they don't have authorization."
What if the creditor says you gave permission over the phone or
online? They should still be able to substantiate it, Bourne says.
They should have details about when you gave permission and
identifying information to show it was really you. "If it was by
phone, they should provide a printout that says you gave verbal
authorization on this date to this operator," Bourne says. "It
should also say what the operator transcribed into their
If the proof is something you don't recognize, or the creditor
says you gave authorization at a time when you know you didn't,
take immediate action. Tell the bureau to put a
, or at least a fraud alert, on your account (that bureau should
then notify the other two). Also, since each of the big three
credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) don't necessarily
contain the exact same information, you should check for any
further evidence of fraud that didn't show up on the report you
viewed. You can pull a free copy of each credit report once a year
Dispute the inquiry with the credit bureau
What if the creditor can't provide proof or just plain doesn't
answer you? "Generally, they have 30 days to respond under the
Fair Credit Reporting Act
," Bourne says. If they don't make that deadline, it's time to
dispute the inquiry with the credit bureau, he advises. "Let them
know you sent a letter to the creditor requesting confirmation of
the inquiry and they ignored you."
The credit bureau is then required to follow up with the
creditor. "If the credit bureau doesn't get a response either, it
has an obligation to remove the disputed inquiry," says Bourne.
Legally, the credit bureau must respond to you within 30 days.
Nevertheless, Bourne says, "Some credit bureaus don't work fast
when it comes to inquiries. They aren't a top priority, and they
are less apt to help you with an inquiry than with a disputed
account or charge."
Determine if you need the inquiry removed
Whenever you encounter an unfamiliar inquiry, your first priority
should be to make sure that it's not a sign of identity theft. If
it is, act quickly to protect yourself. What if the inquiry did
come from a company you do business with, but it didn't have the
legal right to view your credit report? Should you try to have the
First, make sure the inquiry is not a soft inquiry that won't be
shown to prospective creditors. If that's the case, the report will
say so. You may still choose to take issue with the company that
requested the soft inquiry, but there's not much point in having it
removed from the record since you're the only one who'll ever see
How you deal with hard inquiries depends on your situation. If
you're not planning to shop for a loan in the near future, or have
serious credit issues such as late payments or bankruptcy, then
disputing a hard inquiry may not be worth the effort, since any
resulting improvement to your score may not do you much good. If
you do plan to shop for a loan soon and every point on your credit
score counts toward getting the best loan rates, then trying
to get inquiries removed may be worthwhile, particularly if there
are several of them.
But it may not be simple. "Inquiries are generally a matter of
fact," says Meredith Griffanti, a spokeswoman for Equifax. "Under
the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a credit reporting agency must
retain a record of companies who have accessed your credit report."
And while there could be some disagreement between you and a
creditor as to whether a payment was late, it's usually pretty
clear whether or not a company viewed your credit report.
But if your report was obtained illegally, either because of
identity theft or because the company or person who viewed it
didn't have the right to do so, then it shouldn't stay on your
report. "We'll work with you to remove that inquiry," says Griffin
How to dispute credit report errors
Hard inquiries have limited credit score impact