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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.

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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.

What's covered

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 companies.

The 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?
  • Are you in poor health?
  • Will you default on your mortgage?
  • Will you be a good employee?
  • Will you trash an apartment or leave without paying rent?
  • Does your house have water damage or mold?

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 insurance records.

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.

-- Posted: Aug. 17, 2005




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