What's a Soft Inquiry Credit Check and Who Can Peek in on Your Personal Information?

"It felt like somebody was in my house, and didn't take anything, but walked around when I wasn't home."

Some businesses may be running credit checks on you without you ever knowing or approving it.

That's what happened to Richard Glassman, and he found out a medical business ran a "sort inquiry" on his credit.

He said he always closely watches his credit.

"I like to make sure everything is right and correct. So once a year, I pull all three reports," he said.

During a routine scan of his TransUnion credit report, Glassman noticed Los Alamitos Medical Center had checked his credit — twice — during two visits to the emergency room last year.

"Why would you guys run my credit that has nothing to do with credit?" he wondered.

Tenet Healthcare, which owns the hospital, responded to the NBC4 I-Team, saying the company runs a "soft inquiry" when patients check in, and that is disclosed in the paperwork.

So what is a soft inquiry? It gives businesses a glimpse into your finances. They see your credit score, but not your full report. Tenet said it uses scores to gauge a patient's ability to pay.

But Glassman has health insurance, so he felt the hospital was unnecessarily snooping.

"I was not buying a car. I wasn't financing a house. I was having an abdomen CT scan," he said.

Tenet likely saw much more than Glassman's credit score. TransUnion said health care providers are an exception — they see a customer's full credit report when they run soft inquiries.

"This is honestly the first time I've heard of a hospital checking your credit," said Liz Weston of NerdWallet.

Weston said you can expect businesses to check your credit when you're financing something.

But other than that, she says you should resist someone peeking at your credit.

"Our information is out there. When you talk about the data breaches that have happened, the very personal information like your social security number and your date of birth...you don't want them in any more databases than they need to be," she said. "If somebody's going in there and checking your credit, they're also getting that kind of information."

Glassman hopes his experience is a lesson for others.

"It bothers me because it felt like somebody was in my house, and didn't take anything, but walked around when I wasn't home," he said.


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Weston of NerdWallet had these tips:

Freeze your credit. When you do this, no one can check your credit without your permission. If someone does need to run your credit, it's easy to temporarily release the freeze.

Remember: You'll need to freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus — and it's free!

Watch this video to learn more on freezing your credit.

Ever wonder how to freeze your credit? Here’s a guide on what to do with the three major bureaus, May 21, 2019.

Links to credit bureaus' websites:

Read the latest I-Team investigative pieces here:

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