In an earlier blog entry, I briefly mentioned the C.L.U.E. report. Since then, I visited the Choice Trust site to view my C.L.U.E. report and learn more about it. I also wanted to evaluate the accuracy of my C.L.U.E. report. What is a C.L.U.E. report? According the Choice Trust site:
"The C.L.U.E.® Personal Property report provides a five year history of losses associated with an individual and his/her personal property."
The letters C.L.U.E. mean "Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange" report. Why the long name? Simpler is often better. So I am going to use "insurance report" and "C.L.U.E." interchangeably.
Your insurance report (that's "C.L.U.E. report" in insurance speak) is a file that insurance companies use to decide whether or not to offer property insurance to you and me, and at what rates. The report covers property insurance, not medical insurance. Insurance companies insert notes into your insurance report, which you can contest. By law, you are entitled to one free insurance report each year, just like you are entitled to one free credit report from each national credit bureau every year.
Why do I care about the accuracy of my insurance report? The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse provides a good list of the errors commonly found in insurance (C.L.U.E.) reports:
- "Inaccurate information can be included in the report."
- "The report may contain information about someone else or another property."
- "A report may use information other than claims data to rate you as a risk - even if the company doesn't pay a claim."
- "Your phone calls to inquire about a possible claim may be reported."
- "The loss may fall below your deductible and the claim is denied or you are advised not to submit a claim. Still, you can end up with a negative mark."
- "Even when repairs are made and the property is restored to the original condition, the CLUE report can include information about the claim."
- "The report can affect the premium you pay as well as whether you are insured at all."
- "Your history as a long-time customer with your prior company is not a factor of the CLUE report."
This is another example of how the U.S. financial system is heavily tilted towards companies making money by freely sharing consumers' insurance information, and tilted away from consumers. The burden is upon us consumers to prove that our C.L.U.E. report contains errors.
The good news for me is that my C.L.U.E. reports were accurate. They didn't show any claims (that's "losses" in insurance speak) since I haven't made any claims in the past 5 years. If you want to learn more, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has plenty of information about C.L.U.E. reports and your rights.
Astute readers will note that I wrote "my insurance reports." Yes, I had to review multiple reports. Choice Trust delivers automobile property claims (that's "losses" in insurance speak) in one report, and homeowner claims (claims about items you own, like your home or its contents) in a second report. I have no idea why Choice Trust didn't combine this information into a single, comprehensive report.
Before you visit the Choice Trust site, you should know that the ChoicePoint company, a data broker, operates the Choice Trust site. Data brokers make money by selling information... usually the personal information about consumers. Here's how the Choice Trust site describes ChoicePoint:
"Who is ChoicePoint? What do we do? We help you gain information about the people or companies with whom you do business, both professional and personal, to help you make smarter choices. Simply put, we help restore the element of trust that has been increasingly lost over time. At ChoicePoint, we do not sell your personal information to the curious. To use our services and gain access to our data, a person must have a "permissible purpose," which means he or she must have a valid reason - such as verifying credit information or previous employment - to do so. And in almost every case, the information is obtained with your consent. ChoicePoint data is also available to individuals who are looking for information on themselves to help ensure the information is accurate."
Restore the element of trust? You bet! Second, ChoicePoint has a data breach history:
"ChoicePoint Settles Data Security Breach Charges; to Pay $10 Million in Civil Penalties, $5 Million for Consumer Redress: At Least 800 Cases of Identity Theft Arose From Company’s Data Breach" [FTC. January 2006]
"Alert: The ChoicePoint Data Security Breach: What It Means for You, and How to Find Out What ChoicePoint Knows about You" [Privacy Rights Clearinghouse]
"ChoicePoint's Data Breach Fine Sets Record: ID verification services vendor ChoicePoint's breach of personal financial data for more than 163,000 consumers will cost the company $15 million in fines to the Federal Trade Commission — including the largest civil penalty in FTC history." [eWeek. January 2006]
My point: there is risk when dealing with ChoicePoint. We consumers cannot opt-out of the C.L.U.E. report system. Now, about this news article:
Victims of ChoicePoint data breach didn’t take advantage of free offers: Panel of industry, government leaders discuss finding better ways to protect personal data and notify consumers [Network World. April 2007]
My take on this: most consumers don't know what data brokers are, nor what they do. Many people I've talked with don't understand the difference between a Fraud Alert and a Credit Freeze. Most people I've talked with haven't heard of ChoicePoint or the C.L.U.E. report. Maybe I just happened to pick people who weren't ID-theft victims of ChoicePoint's data breach.
Regardless, the whole topic of credit, insurance, and identity theft is complicated. And, ChoicePoint's data breach history is enough to make any reasonable consumer pause before using the Choice Trust site. More importantly, ChoicePoint's Choice Trust site is the site we consumers must use to access our insurance reports. There are smaller industry players, but ChoiceTrust dominates the market.
Since I work in web site design and usability, I'd like to share a few additional observations about my experience with the Choice Trust site:
- The site's home page is cluttered with lots of text. It forces you to read a lot, making the site difficult to use. Easily scannable pages is the standard for good web design today
- The site is difficult to use. You have to know what a C.L.U.E. report is, by name, to click on the correct link. Why couldn't the site use plain English instead?
- To view your report you first have to create an online account.The site forces you to enter a lot of personal information during the account creation steps. This is always troubling, especially if you are an ID-theft victim who has been burned with a data breach, you know the perils of disclosing too much personal data
- After creating your account, you can sign in to view your C.L.U.E. report. Like I mentioned above, there are 2 reports; one for property and a second for auto. This report design seems to focus on maximizing profits for ChoicePoint instead of providing an easy-to-use and user-friendly site.
- While viewing my reports, the site informed me that my free C.L.U.E. reports are available online only for 30 days. Why the limitation? After 30 days, i have to pay to see the same report I saw earlier for free. This marketing strategy does not create goodwill between me and Choice Trust. (Again, this design seems to focus on maximizing profits for ChoicePoint, rather than providing an easy-to-use and user-friendly site.)
- The site pages present the account navigation (e.g., My Account, My Reports) in a light-colored type which is easy to miss. The main site navigation (e.g., Personal Reports, Personal Insurance Reports) is in bold type which is easy to see, but it links to site sections I'm not interested in. I had to frequently use my browser's Back button. All of this was frustrating
- The "How To Read Your Report" page contained helpful content, but the site presented it in a separate page, not the same page with your actual C.L.U.E. report. I had to switch browser windows repeatedly... an irritant.
- Consumers in 11 states can "freeze" or lock their C.L.U.E. insurance reports. If you live in CO, DC, DE, IL, ME, MT, NC, NH, NJ, NV, or TN, then you are the lucky few. The site doesn't mention when this option might be available to residents in other states.
Have you used the Choice Trust site? If yes, what did you think of it? What did you think of your C.L.U.E. report? I've Been Mugged readers want to know.
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