Specialty consumer reports reveal your secrets
When it comes to personal information, your credit report is just the tip of the iceberg. Insurers, landlords, banks and other companies have access to additional personal data about you, and if that information is wrong, you're in trouble.
These reports, known as specialty consumer reports,
provide background information that such companies use to decide
if they want to do business with you. Companies use these reports
to try to quantify the risks involved in their business dealings,
according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (www.privacyrights.org),
a consumer rights organization.
Among the information in these reports are your current
and past medical conditions, residential and tenant history, check-writing
history and homeowner and car insurance-claim history. While not
every American has a report, many do, and it pays to find out if
the information collected on you is accurate.
Fortunately, the same act of Congress that gives you
free access to your credit report covers these reports. Just like
the credit reports, you can get one free report per year from each
specialty-reporting company, provided a report exists.
"You could be shopping around for a new checking account,
and if there is some negative information associated with a prior
account of yours, you could be denied a checking account whether
you are responsible for those problems or not," says Tena Fiery
of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
This holds true for the reports on other
aspects of your life. Inaccurate information may result in you being denied life,
car, homeowners, renters, disability or medical insurance, employment
or an apartment. If you've been the victim of identity theft, the damage could
extend into these specialty-reporting areas, so it's wise to get copies of all
of the reports that you can.
Much of the same information that goes into a credit
report also makes its way into these specialty reports, including
your driving record, medical data, bankruptcy filings, credit history
and court records of criminal or civil cases, as well as data from
companies that you've done business with such as banks and insurance
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse notes that when companies order reports on you, they
are looking to answer questions such as:
- Are you likely
to wreck your car?
- Is your checking account frequently overdrawn?
you in poor health?
- Will you default on your mortgage?
you be a good employee?
- Will you trash an apartment or leave
without paying rent?
- Does your house have water damage or
The actual reports
Here are the specialty consumer reports that you can
access through the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA:
CLUE insurance reports.
CLUE stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange. Insurers
use this report along with their own insurance scoring systems to
figure out your risk profile, which boils down to how likely you
are to file a claim, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
ChoicePoint, one of the two major specialty consumer reporting agencies
in this area, notes that prior loss experience is a predictor of
future loss experience.
Basically, insurers put information about paid claims
into a national database that they can access, and use this information
when deciding to grant you new insurance coverage.
"The auto and homeowners claims reports have gotten
a lot of attention due to inaccuracies in those reports resulting
in a negative entry for the consumer," says Fiery. "A bad CLUE report
can result in you not being able to sell a house if the CLUE report
says it has water damage, for example, even if that isn't true."
For information on getting your CLUE
report, click here.
Medical history reports.
Medical History Reports, supplied by the Medical Information Bureau,
or MIB, are only maintained on 15 percent to 18 percent of people
who apply for private, nonemployer, insurance, says David Aronson,
a spokesman for the MIB. Information commonly reported includes
medical conditions such as depression, asthma, diabetes and high
blood pressure as well as height, weight, blood pressure, a bad
driving record and participation in hazardous sports such as skydiving.
The MIB is a specialty consumer reporting agency with more than
500 U.S. and Canadian insurers as members. MIB compiles and maintains
Reports are provided in plain English without complicated
codes and abbreviations, and MIB rules keep insurers from basing
their decision to insure, in whole or in part, on the MIB report.
"[MIB reports] are intended only as an alert to the need for further
investigation," says Aronson. "If the alert provided by the MIB
report causes the company to undertake an underwriting investigation,
and that investigation results in the company's decision to decline
or rate the case, the company is required to notify the consumer
that their decision was based on the findings of their underwriting
investigation that was initiated as a result of the MIB report."
For information on getting your MIB
report, click here.