Have your auto or homeowner insurance rates been creeping up? If so, you may have been “POed” by your auto insurer. According to new information from the Consumer Federation of America, some insurance companies are secretly “price optimizing” customers; charging them a higher rate for no other reason than they think the customer won’t shop around for a better deal.
“Price optimization is a data mining tool used by insurers to charge higher premiums to those consumers least likely to shop for a new policy in the face of a rate increase,” says CFA.
How do they know whether you are likely to shop around? For now at least, that information isn’t public. “I don’t know what’s in the black box,” says Bob Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance. But he notes that insurance companies typically can review credit report data, information provided on applications, and a host of other data available from third-party sources about current and prospective customers.
As an actuary, Hunter says he first heard of this practice when he participated in an industry webinar touting the benefits to insurers of pricing policies this way. He subsequently reviewed industry information that indicated this is not an isolated practice among just a few insurers. When insurers do use a price optimization tool, “if you are in a group that shops less, you are going to pay more,” he says.
CFA and other consumer groups are asking regulators to stop insurance companies from using price optimization techniques when setting rates and premiums.
Julia Angwin, whose book Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance, revealed the myriad ways companies track consumer information and use it to increase profits, sees this as one example of the way our own information can be used to get us to pay more. “People are worried about the NSA but all the ingredients are there for…charging the prices consumers can bear,” she says.
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