Dear Consumer Ed: 

I am shopping for a new car. I specifically told the sales rep at the dealership to only check my credit one time. After running my credit report, the sales rep came back with a deal that was not good, i.e. the interest rate was too high.  I declined the offer and left. I’ve since discovered that the dealership checked my credit 12 times and may be continuing to do so.  This has already hurt my credit rating. I feel this is deliberate retaliation for declining their offer.  What can I do?

Consumer Ed says: 

It’s very important to monitor requests for your credit report.  These requests are recorded on your credit reporting file, and multiple creditor requests can negatively impact your credit score. You can easily check to see who has pulled your credit report by looking at the “Inquiries” section of your credit report.

Federal law strictly limits when and how a consumer’s credit report can be released to others.  Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a consumer report can only be released to another person or entity for limited permissible purposes that are spelled out in the law.  For example, a credit reporting agency can furnish your credit report if you give written approval for the report to be released to a business; a creditor can access your credit report when you apply for credit; a collection agency can check it when attempting to collect a debt; insurance companies can pull your report to underwrite your insurance; and employers may access your report if they have your permission.   In order to access your credit report, a business must certify to the credit reporting agency that it is obtaining and using the credit report for a permissible purpose under the FCRA.  A person who knowingly accesses your credit report under false pretenses can be fined, imprisoned for up to two years, or both. 

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a car dealer does not have a permissible purpose to get your credit report if you’re simply asking for information about vehicles and prices, or if you just take a car out for a test drive – because at that point you haven’t initiated any transaction. 

In your case, it sounds like you gave the dealer verbal permission to pull your credit report.  So to the extent you allowed it to check your report so that the salesperson could make you an offer, you initiated a transaction with the dealership, and the dealer had a legitimate reason to pull the report – one time.  However, once you declined the dealer’s offer and left the dealership, the dealer no longer had a permissible purpose to check your report – it didn’t have your written approval to do so, and you were no longer considering purchasing a vehicle at that dealership.
   
If you become aware that your credit report has been obtained outside of the FCRA guidelines, you have several options. Specifically, you can do one or more of the following:

   •    Contact the business pulling your report, notify them that you do not believe they have a permissible purpose for accessing your report and request that they stop.

   •    Contact the three major credit reporting agencies to notify them that a business has been accessing your credit file without a permissible purpose.
          o    For Equifax, contact:  Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 105069 Atlanta, Georgia 30348.
          o    For TransUnion, you can request consumer support by visiting: www.transunion.com/personal-credit/customer-support/request-customer-support.page.
          o    For Experian: Experian requests that you first obtain a copy of your Experian credit report by visiting Experian online or by calling 1-888-397-3742. Once you have your Experian personal credit report, contact the number displayed on the report for assistance.

   •    File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by going to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov; or

   •    Submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by visiting www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/, clicking on “Credit reporting” and following the instructions provided.

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