Can Your Ex Spy on Your Credit?

You may think — or wish — that your ex is out your life. But what happens when your ex decides to check your credit? It may not be difficult; after all, they probably know your Social Security number, as well as lots of personal details that would make it easy for them to pretend to be you, or to make it look like they have your permission. But is it legal? One of our readers asks:

After a divorce, I am planning on refinancing the “family” home. My ex-husband took it upon himself to inquire about refinancing with a bank that he has personal connections with. The bank checked my credit and pulled my scores etc. without my verbal or written permission. The bank has admitted to not having my permission and going off of my ex-husband’s authority. As you can see this is a problem and will continue to be with an ex-spouse thinking he still has this authority. I actually would like to know — ex-spouse or not — can anyone authorize the check of another person’s credit?

It sounds to me like what the bank — and our reader’s ex — did was illegal. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit reporting agencies are only supposed to provide credit reports to users (in this case, the bank) when they have a “permissible purpose” for obtaining those reports. Permissible purpose includes considering a consumer’s application for credit or to review or collect on an existing account.

If the bank obtained your credit report to review or collect an account you already have with them, that’s one thing. But checking your credit because your ex wants to know if you can refinance the loan is not OK.

[Related Article: Will Your Credit Outlast Your Marriage?]

There are a couple of ways you can go here. One would be to file a complaint with the bank’s regulator and send a copy of your complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Or you can contact a consumer law attorney about a lawsuit. “If the ‘pull’ occurred after estrangement or, better yet, after the divorce, then it would be a FCRA 1681b violation and she would have an action against both husband and bank. The bank cannot and should not just hand out her credit report without her express permission,” says Robert Brennan, a consumer law attorney who works on Southern California credit damage cases.

The FCRA allows for actual damages, or $1,000, whichever is greater, as well as punitive damages, court costs and attorney fees.

If you think that your ex might feel entitled to check your credit any time he wants, it may be a good idea to file a police report. This is a type of identity theft. Alternatively, Brennan says you can use an FTC identity fraud affidavit or file a report with the FBI. “She can also contact the state department of motor vehicles,” he says. “California’s DMV (for example) will take an identity theft report.”

[Related Article: Getting a Divorce?  Here's How to Protect Your Credit]

If you want to give him the benefit of the doubt, you can tell him that what he did is illegal and that you will file a police report if he pulls this stunt again. Hopefully he will get the message.

It would also be a good idea for you to consider placing a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit reports. A fraud alert is free and will alert creditors who review your report that they should investigate further before extending credit, but it doesn’t lock down your credit files. A freeze, on the other hand, will prevent anyone from accessing your report without a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that only you will know. Unless you are a victim of identity theft, though, there may be a fee to freeze your credit, as well as a fee to unlock your report. (Those fees vary by state.) You may also want to subscribe to a credit monitoring service to be alerted when your credit report is accessed.

The bottom line is your ex should not be spying on your credit. But you’ll need to keep tabs on your credit to make sure he doesn’t.

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