What to do about unauthorized hard inquiries on your credit reports

Young man drinking coffee and learning what to do about unauthorized hard credit checks on his account.Image: Young man drinking coffee and learning what to do about unauthorized hard credit checks on his account.
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Picture this: You’re checking a credit report and notice a hard inquiry was made, but you don’t recognize it.

Sound familiar? This could’ve happened for a few reasons: The inquiry could have actually come from an authorized lender, could be a reporting error or could be a sign of possible identity theft. Here’s what you should know about each scenario.

Authorized lender

Hard inquiries should only be made on your credit reports with your permission. But there are situations that can make this confusing. For example, shopping for auto financing can result in several inquiries if one dealer reaches out to multiple lenders. So while you may have thought that authorizing one dealer meant one hard inquiry, you could end up with several.

The good news is that many credit score models take these shopping windows into account when calculating your score. For example, VantageScore considers all inquiries that happen within 14 days of one another as just one inquiry. This gives you time to shop around without worrying about a significant decrease in your scores due to multiple hard inquiries.

Reporting error

If you didn’t authorize the hard inquiry, you can call the creditor to check on why your credit was run. The creditor’s name should be listed under the hard inquiry section of a credit report.

You may have to do some searching online to get their contact information, or you could call the credit bureau to get more detailed information from it. If the mistake was a reporting error, the bureau should be able to help you. If not, you can file a dispute by calling the bureau or mailing a letter.

Sign of possible identity theft

If you didn’t authorize the hard inquiry, have called the company to check on why your credit was run, and find out you supposedly did authorize it, it’s possible your identity was compromised.

Find out as much as you can (such as the account contact details, when the account was opened and how much has been charged) from the company and ask it to help deal with any fraudulent activity that has already occurred. The company should have protocols in place to assist you.

If there’s account information that has already shown up on your credit report, you’ll need to contact the credit bureaus. You may also want to check out IdentityTheft.gov, a Federal Trade Commission site dedicated to helping consumers figure out what to do about identity theft.

There are additional steps you can take after you’ve resolved the initial fraudulent issues. You can contact the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your file, meaning additional steps would need to be taken to verify your identification before extending a new line of credit.

Or, you could place a security freeze on your file, meaning your file can’t be accessed at all to extend new credit unless you temporarily unfreeze it.

You also have the option of reporting the fraud to the FTC or filing a report with your local police department.

Bottom line

Understanding hard inquiries can help you put them into context, resolve a possible error or be alerted to possible signs of identity theft. If you’re a Credit Karma member, you can get free credit monitoring on your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports, meaning we’ll alert you after significant changes are made, such as when a hard inquiry appears on your reports. Stay on top of your credit health by checking your credit reports on a regular basis.