Many databases track you

PERSONAL FINANCE

July 25, 2006|By EILEEN AMBROSE

Most consumers know about credit reports that track how responsibly we handle our finances. But there are plenty of lesser-known databases also keeping tabs on us.

And what they report to businesses may be critical to whether we can buy life or homeowner's insurance and at what price. They also may be a key factor in securing a job, apartment or checking account.

"The world revolves around risk assessment," said Tena Friery, research director for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "Will you be a good employee? Will you wreck your car? Will you be a good tenant? Companies going into these relationships more and more want to know as much as they can. These shared databases are just one of the ways they find out about people."

Luckily, the federal law that requires free annual credit reports also entitles consumers to a free copy of other reports once a year. And, as with credit reports, consumers have a right to challenge information on the reports to get inaccurate information removed.

Not all consumers are in every database. And it may not be necessary to check each report. But when you do need to know what they're saying about you, here's how to find out:

MIB Inc. stores information on 18 million Americans who have applied for individual life, health, disability and long-term care policies in the past seven years. It doesn't collect data from on-the-job group insurance.

About 500 insurers belong to MIB and share information gleaned from policy applications.

A report will list illnesses or risky behavior, such as poor driving or playing dangerous sports. Call 866-692-6901 for a report.

"If you see, for example, diseases on there that don't belong to you, that's what you need to get corrected," said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum.

MIB says errors are rare.

C.L.U.E. Personal Property and C.L.U.E. Auto reports contain insurance claim information going back five years. Insurers use the databases when someone seeks a new homeowner's or auto policy, not for renewals, said spokesman Chuck Jones.

Both reports are products of ChoicePoint, the giant data collector with a huge data breach last year. For both reports, call 866-312-8076.

Besides correcting errors, you can add positive changes to a report.

For example, maybe you no longer have the dog that bit houseguests, Jones said.

ChexSystems collects negative banking information about a customer, such as frequently bounced checks. It's used by most banks.

A ChexSystems report is a red flag to lenders, and you might have trouble opening a checking account, Friery says. Call 800-428-9623 for a report.

SCAN Consumer Report gathers data on those writing bad checks at stores. About 90,000 U.S. retailers belong to the network. Call 800-262-7771 for a report.

Victims of identity theft involving check fraud should request ChexSystems and SCAN reports, Friery said.

Hundreds of companies screen prospective employees and tenants.

Landlords don't have to tell you the name of the screener, and employers aren't required to do so upfront, Friery said. Still ask, and if you get the name, request your report, she said.

Questions? Comments? Write personal.finance@baltsun.com

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