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How they find out all about you

Wouldn't you like to know what a potential employer sees when conducting your background check? Ever wondered why a sales associate asks for your driver's license when you return merchandise to a store?

There are Big Brother-type files on us everywhere, containing all kinds of information -- risky hobbies, fender benders, oversized slippers returned without a receipt.

But if everyone else in the world can snoop through our personal information, shouldn't we have access to it, too?

It turns out we do.

Consumer Reports has compiled a bunch of places that compile those details and tells us where to find them:

* ChoicePoint records homeowner's and automobile insurance claim histories. Insurance companies use that information to decide how much of a risk you are and therefore, how much to charge you. Call 1-800-627- 3487 or visit www.ChoiceTrust.com for yours.

* Three different companies get a snapshot of your health (not medical) history by tracking things like the kinds of prescriptions you have filled. Life, health and long-term care insurers use it to calculate your risk. You can get free copies from MIB Group at 1-866-692- 6901, IntelliScript at 1-877-211-4816 and MedPoint at 1-888-206-0335.

* Banks may refuse to open a new account for you and retailers may turn away your check purchases depending on what they find with Chex Systems and TeleCheck. The companies track negative checking activity. For free copies of your reports, go to www.ConsumerDebit.com and click "order consumer report" (that's Chex Systems); for TeleCheck go to www.firstdata.com/support/telecheck_home.htm and click "TeleCheck Consumer Assistance."

* Want to know what an employer, rental or any other kind of background check will turn up? Get a copy of your ChoicePoint and LexisNexis "Person Reports," which include criminal records and other published and unpublished personal information. Click "Access to Your Personal Information" under the "Reports About You" tab at www.Choice-Point.com . You can also visit www.Lexis-Nexis.com/privacy/for-consumers/request-personal-information.aspx .

* Remember that ugly sweater you got for your birthday last year? Retail Equation does. That's because, when you returned it, they made a permanent record of it and made note of whether you used a receipt. Serial returners beware: stores use these lists to catch folks trying to return stolen purchases or those who buy things, use them for a short time and then return them. If a store denies your return, you should be eligible for a free copy of your report, which can be found at www.TheRetailEquation.com/consumers .

Just as we go through our credit reports to make sure they are accurate, it would be a good idea to comb through the other files every year or two. After all, we're at the mercy of whatever a rental manager, insurance company or potential employer sees there.

e-mail: schristmann@buffnews.com

Share your money-saving tips on the MoneySmart blog at www.BuffaloNews.com /MoneySmart. You can also e-mailmoney@buffnews.com or call the Money- Smart consumer hotline at 849-4618.

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