Thursday, February 10, 2005

"Big Brother is Watching You" .. and it's not the government

The phrase comes from the book 1984 and invokes hysteria, yes? The book talks about over-arching and dominating government aimed at controlling us. They (the government of that book) control "us" through watching everything, or at least pretending to watch everything. That and regularly rewriting history.

Instead "Big Brother" is business, and there's a business justification to this. First, business is already collecting a ton of information about "us". Every credit card and purchase and bank loan and credit application and doctor visit and insurance claim and more ... each and every datum gets recorded in computers. However the data is separated out into different companies. But what if the companies were to share their data?

Most people are already familiar with the idea of "credit reports". There are three credit agencies in the U.S. that track data about individuals, and make the reports available as to creditworthiness. The creditworthiness is then used as a score whenever you apply for a bank loan, and is a direct determiner in whether you can buy a house (that is, to get the mortgage in order to buy the house).

But, wait, there's more.

  • ChoiceTrust ( tracks home and automobile insurance claims [CLUE reports], employment history, and residential rental history. You can order these reports through the web, or you can call them at 1-866-312-8076. The hours for the phone line are all day Monday to Saturday, and 10 am 'til midnight Eastern Standard Time on Sunday.
  • ISO ( also tracks property and automobile insurance losses, through its A-Plus reports. The privacy rights center says that ISO has this subject to the roll-out dates that credit reports are on, but I saw no mention of this on the web site. To order the report, call 1-800-627-3487.
  • MIB ( compiles and maintains records about individual life, health, and disability insurance policies. They should only have information on you if you have applied for an individual (not group) insurance policy within the last seven years; they estimate they have reports for approximately 20% of the population. To request a report, call 1-866-692-6901; TTY users can call 1-866-346-3642.
  • Tenant reports. There are lots of them -- the best bet is to ask the landlord for the name and contact information for his or her screening company, since there are over 300 resident screening companies in the country.
  • ChexSystems ( tracks checking account histories. You can order your ChexSystems report through the web at
    or call 1-800-428-9623.
  • Shared Check Authorization Network (SCAN). ( maintains a database of returned checks and instances of fraud. The website
    gives you instructions on how to order by mail or fax. Their toll-free number is 1-800-262-7771.
  • TeleCheck. ( compiles information much the same as SCAN. As far as I can tell, they have no information about file disclosure on their website. Their toll-free number is 1-800-209-8186.
  • National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange, Inc (NCTUE) ( formerly NCTDE, keeps track of utility services (cable, electricity, gas, internet, local & LD phone, etc.). Consumers may call 1-888-201-5643 for reports.

I have additional information on credit reporting here:

And there's even more here:

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