The law puts strict limits on who can access your credit report. Some parties have the right to review that information even if you don't give explicit permission. You can protect yourself by reviewing your report regularly to find out who has been inquiring about your credit. You can also ask for a credit freeze to prevent unauthorized access to your credit report.
Who Can Access Your Report
The Federal Reserve identifies who can access your credit report without your specific approval. The list includes anyone with a legitimate business interest in seeing your credit, such as a potential landlord or bank where you want to open an account.
In addition, all lenders whom you've asked for credit or who have already given you credit can see your information. Utilities and cell phone companies that provide you with services can get your credit report, as can insurance companies with whom you have, or may have, a policy.
If you apply for government benefits, government agencies reviewing your financial status can access your credit. Credit reporting companies will release your report when presented with a court order or grand jury subpoena. Your employer can access your credit report only if you provide specific approval.
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Find out Who's Seen Your Report
Your credit report lists people who have requested a copy of your credit report. Review of this list is one way to check for potential identity theft, as illegally obtaining access to your credit is often the first step before opening accounts in your name. You should know the names of the people or companies that accessed your credit report. If you do not, it is a red flag that something is amiss.
If you spot mistakes in your credit report, including the names of people you don't feel should have access to your information, write a letter to the credit reporting agency.
Protect Yourself With Regular Review
You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can order your credit report by calling Annual Credit Report at 1-877-322-8228. You will be asked to provide certain information to confirm your identity. The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, recommends stating only the last four digits of your Social Security number to help protect your privacy. You will also have to give your date of birth and address.
Consider a Credit Freeze
The FTC recommends a credit freeze for anyone who is concerned about identity theft or unauthorized access to her credit report. With a credit freeze, existing creditors and their debt collectors still have access to your report, as do government agencies acting under a court order or subpoena. New creditors, however, will not have access.
Credit freezes do not affect your credit score, and you are still entitled to free annual credit reports. If you choose to have a freeze on your credit, you may have to request that it is lifted temporarily when you want certain parties to review your credit, such as a potential landlord. Credit reporting agencies may charge a fee for placing and lifting a credit freeze.