Caveat #1 – You must have an “Official” signed release from the subject
The first requirement is that you must have a signed authorization or waiver from the subject of the inquiry to obtain their credit report. Due to enhanced federal privacy laws, there are no (legal) means to obtain a subject’s credit report unless you have a signed release. Regardless of what “loopholes” another rogue investigator may inform you, there is truly no way around it.
Caveat #2 – You must have a “permissible” business purpose
Access to a subject’s credit report is governed by the Fair Credit Report Act (“FCRA”) which was initially enacted in 1970 and has been amended to address heightened privacy laws. Sweeping and substantial amendments to the FCRA were made in the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996 that further limited access to information contained in a consumer credit report through a set of “permissible purposes” that would later be adopted by the Drivers Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) and the Gramm Leach Bliley Act (“GLBA”). These federal statutes limit the use of a credit report to certain “permissible purposes” such as a person acting in a fiduciary or representative capacity, for employment screening, or a “legitimate” business need on behalf of the consumer.
So how does a private investigator typically obtain a credit report?
Some private investigators act as a third-party source for credit reporting agencies and have a direct link to obtain a subject’s credit report, however most investigators will utilize outside sources to obtain the information through legitimate third parties. These third party resources typically have access to only one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S. (i.e. Experian, Equifax or Trans Union).
Does obtaining a person’s credit report affect their credit score?
Whenever a potential creditor (bank, lending institution, utility company, etc.) obtains a person’s credit report as part of a lending decision, his/her score is ultimately negatively affected as a “hard inquiry.” However, when a subject’s credit report is requested by a potential employer or landlord it is considered a “soft inquiry” which does not have a negative affect on the credit score.