Homeowner claims and auto claims are registered in CLUE and A-PLUS. Health insurance and other types of insurance are not registered.
McCaul emphasizes that ChoicePoint does not determine how the information in its database is used. That is up to individual insurance companies.
However, insurance companies may use these databases -- which originally were created to prevent insurance fraud -- to research and screen applicants' claim histories. In some cases, this could result in higher rates or difficulty obtaining coverage.
Information found in these databases may be more expansive than many people realize. For example, the Insurance Information Institute warns on its Web site that an insurance carrier may submit information to CLUE when a customer simply calls on an inquiry.
However, McCaul says ChoicePoint frowns upon that practice.
"A claim is loaded into the database when the loss occurs and is accessible when a CLUE report is requested by the carrier at the time of application for insurance," she says. "For several years we have cautioned insurance carriers not to enter inquiries into the CLUE database -- only actual claims."
Some states have taken steps to restrict the type of information that may be found in these databases. In particular, many states have passed laws that regulate whether or not inquiries are counted as claims.
About one-third of states have passed legislation regulating how these databases can be used, according to the Insurance Information Institute Web site.
"All 50 states require insurance companies to file their rating criteria and premium structure with regulators," McCaul says.
This means any decision made by a carrier must comply with the information filed with -- and in some cases approved by -- state insurance regulators, she says.
Data is kept in CLUE and A-PLUS for five years, although some states can pass legislation that requires information to be kept for longer, so long as these laws comply with restrictions established by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act. For example, in California, car insurance claim data is held for seven years.
When to think twiceSo, when should you file a claim?
"There are no general guidelines," says Tim Bowen, director of homeowner property claims for MetLife. "These decisions are made on an individual basis on claims made by any insurance carrier's customers."
Filing a single claim for homeowners insurance generally will not result in higher rates. However, Bowen says that making two claims in a three-year period is more likely to trigger a hike, although each company is different. Many companies base their decisions on how long you've been with the company and the nature of the claims.