Insurance claims could haunt houses

She said there was nothing unfair about a homeowner potentially being charged higher rates for a previous homeowner's claims. An insurer will want to know about any past damage at the property.

But Rouquie acknowledged that CLUE didn't reflect any work a new homeowner may (and typically will) do to improve a property once a sale goes through -- an investment that theoretically should make the homeowner a better risk for insurers and drive rates lower.

"This is purely a loss history, not a repair history," she said.

A spokeswoman for ISO, the other leading claims-database compiler, declined to comment on the company's operations.

Many consumers are probably unaware that their insurer routinely shares sensitive information with the CLUE and A-PLUS databases, or that an "insurance score," similar to a credit score, is often given to people without their knowing it.

Since 2006, California has required insurers to notify customers that claims info may be shared with third parties. The disclosure is included with the fine print accompanying policies and claims forms, which few people might take the time to read.

It says, rather innocuously, that the insurer "reports claim information to one or more claims information databases" and that "the claim information is used to furnish loss history reports to insurers."

The reality is that such reports can have a significant effect on your rates and coverage, and that as much as seven years of a person's or property's claims history is available to virtually all insurers.

You're entitled to a free copy of your CLUE and A-PLUS files once a year. It's a smart idea to see what's there and whether your report includes any erroneous information.

To order your CLUE report, go to www.choicetrust.com, the website of ChoicePoint's CLUE subsidiary. For A-PLUS, go to www.iso.com and look for the link under "useful features."

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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