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Secret Consumer Scores

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They’re not credit scores, but they can cost you big

They know what you buy. They know what you eat. They know whether you’re healthy.

“They” are data-tracking and analysis companies, and they compile files full of highly personal information about you. These files are used to assign you “consumer scores”—different from your credit scores—that lenders, insurers, marketers, employers and other businesses use to size you up and decide whether they want to work with you at all and, if so, under what terms.

AnalyticsIQ, for example, which is one of the tracking companies, has a score called RiskIQ…and ScoreLogix offers the Job Security Score, which predicts the stability of your income.

Laws eventually might be passed guaranteeing consumers the right to see all of their scores and the data used to calculate them. But until that happens, here are 10 strategies you can use to increase your secret scores…

SPENDING STRATEGIES

Your purchases play a major role in calculating many of your secret scores. Marketing companies use scores based on your spending habits to decide how to target you. Credit card issuers and other lenders use them to determine what terms to offer you. The things that you buy even could be used to gauge your health—with potentially significant effects. If the secret scorers decide that you’re unhealthy, it might become more difficult to obtain affordable health, life or disability insurance…to land a job…or to secure appealing loan rates—lenders shy away from ­unhealthy people because they sometimes end up with big medical bills that they cannot pay.

For higher secret scores…

Don’t pay with a credit card, debit card or check if you don’t want a purchase to count against you. The companies that compile the data used in secret scores can link a purchase to you only if you pay with one of those methods or if you use a customer loyalty card.

Times to pay with cash…

If you buy alcohol or tobacco or gamble at a casino or racetrack. Such purchases can have a very negative effect on consumer and health scores.

If you buy books about health problems and/or addictions. Pay with cash even if it’s a friend or relative who has the problem. But use credit or debit cards to buy books about exercise and fitness.

Buy clothes. Believe it or not, this will boost the scores that gauge your health. People who care enough about their appearance to regularly buy new clothes also tend to care enough about their appearance to eat well and live a healthy lifestyle.

If you don’t often buy new clothes for yourself, boost your scores by buying clothing as gifts for others.

Exceptions: Don’t overdo the clothes shopping. People who spend excessive amounts on clothes in relation to their incomes might be viewed as undisciplined, something that is considered a negative for both health and consumer scores. How much clothes shopping is too much varies from score to score, but if you suspect that you spend more on clothing than most people in your income bracket, use cash or gift cards to make some of your purchases. Tip: Always use cash or gift cards when buying plus-size clothing. Plus-size clothing buyers are likely to be considered more unhealthy in determining health scores.

Make a purchase at an elite department store. Each year, make at least one purchase from a high-end department store such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom or Saks Fifth Avenue. This will elevate you to “elite shopper” ­status with certain consumer scores, a potentially significant score increase.

Join a club. Use a debit or credit card to pay for membership in a social club, such as a bridge club or theater-goers group, and/or to make ongoing purchases related to a safe —gardening or golfing, for example. Club memberships and extended participation in safe hobbies tend to be viewed as signs of discipline and engagement. Disciplined, engaged people are considered more likely to pay their bills on time and take care of their health.

HEALTH STRATEGIES

To avoid hurting your scores by being viewed as unhealthy…

Pay for fitness activities. That can include subscribing to a hiking magazine or a health-related newsletter… joining a gym…or even purchasing running shoes, hiking shoes, exercise apparel or sporting gear. Making a few purchases each year that suggest you’re interested in fitness or an outdoor activity will have a very positive effect on secret scores that gauge your health.

Do not register with your real name or regular e-mail address on health-oriented websites or complete their surveys. Health sites often sell the data they collect about their users to the companies that compile secret scores. Your scores are likely to suffer if you disclose a health problem on a health site’s survey—or even just investigate a health problem.

Exception: It is OK to use health sites to research health conditions if you have not registered with your real name and/or regular e-mail address or filled out a survey that personally identifies you.

Fill prescriptions related to chronic health conditions well before your current supply of the medication runs out. If you wait until the last minute to refill these prescriptions, it might be taken as a sign that you are not managing your condition responsibly and perhaps that you are not disciplined and/or health conscious.

Deny companies the right to access your Obamacare Individual Health Risk Score. This score was calculated for you if you signed up for health insurance through an Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace. It does not affect your health insurance rates—it’s used to compensate insurance companies that end up with especially unhealthy pools of policyholders. But if your low score becomes known outside the ACA system, it can have far-reaching implications for your employability, loan rates, insurance rates and more.

If someone asks for your permission to obtain your Obamacare score—or asks you to obtain your score and pass it along—don’t do it. True, the company that is asking for this score might be less likely to work with you if you don’t comply, but denying it access to your score reduces the odds that your low score will be distributed to other companies outside the ACA system. Point out that the scores are meant just for insurers.

Neighborhood Strategies

Some secret scores judge you based on your neighbors. Evaluating people based on the neighborhoods they live in is nothing new—zip codes have long been used to help set insurance rates, for example. But such evaluations have historically been done based on a wide area. Now they might be done based on areas as small as a “census block,” which could be just a few residences in a rural area. When you shop for a new home…

Use the Sitegeist smartphone app. This app provides a range of interesting details about your current location. Put it to use before making an offer on a home that’s for sale. The higher the average housing prices, rental rates and income levels it reports for this area, the more likely it is that living there will boost your secret scores. (Free for Android or Apple, Sitegeist.SunlightFoundation.com)

Lean toward a relatively small home on an upscale street rather than one of the nicest homes on a lesser street. Living in a more upscale area will improve your secret scores, and as a bonus, homes in nicer areas tend to be easier to resell.

 

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Source: Pam Dixon, founder and executive director of the World ­Privacy Forum, a nonprofit public interest ­research and education group, San Diego. She is coauthor of the report “The Scoring of America: How ­Secret Consumer Scores Threaten Your ­Privacy and Your Future.” WorldPrivacyForum.org

  Date: July 15, 2014 Publication: Bottom Line Personal
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