Fact Sheet 26:
CLUE and You:
How Insurers Size You Up
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Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
- About CLUE Reports
- CLUE Reports: Laws and Flaws
- Insurance Scores
- Summary of Your Rights
- Rights for California Consumers
- How to Get Insurance Report Free
- Tips for Insurance Customers
IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR CLUE REPORT
PLEASE CALL (888) 497-0011
After you file a claim, your homeowner's policy is not renewed and you cannot find another company to insure you.
Your automobile insurance premium is raised because you filed for bankruptcy.
Does this sound implausible? Think again. A claim on your homeowner's policy or information that seems to have no bearing on your driving ability can make your premiums skyrocket. Worse, your insurance might even be cancelled.
Claims you file - sometimes even inquiries about your coverage that do not result in a claim - can appear in a little-known database called the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, known as "CLUE" or its smaller competitor Verisk ISO A-PLUS. And your insurance "score," which is largely based on your credit rating, can determine how much you pay for homeowner's or automobile insurance.
If you've seen your CLUE report and know your insurance score, chances are you've already been turned down for automobile or homeowner's insurance. But probably you, like most others, are clueless about CLUE.
The CLUE report and the insurance scoring system are tools insurers use to decide your risk profile, that is, how likely you are to file a claim against your policy. Insurers feed information about paid claims - perhaps even your inquiries about coverage that do not result in a claim - into a national database for use by insurers. Information included in the database, along with your insurance score, makes up your risk profile. Insurers use the profile to decide whether you get new insurance. At renewal time, your current insurer will probably review your claims history as well as your current insurance score to set your premiums - even to decide if you get to keep the insurance you have. When you shop for new insurance, the company may order a CLUE report. If information is inaccurate, you can be left without insurance while you work to correct the errors.
Many states have passed laws to address consumer concerns about CLUE reports and use of insurance scores. Some laws prohibit use of inquiries that do not result in a claim. And some states now require notice when an insurer provides information to a claims database. For information on your state's laws, connect to your state insurance commissioner.
This guide describes property loss databases, insurance scores, how insurers use these predictive tools, your consumer rights, and how you can get a copy of your CLUE report and scores. We also explain your new rights to free reports.
The CLUE database enables homeowner and automobile insurers to exchange information - without notice to you unless your state requires notice- about claims for loss of property. Here's a simple example of how the exchange system works:
- Insurance companies feed information about property loss claims, perhaps even inquiries about coverage, into a central database.
- If you file a claim for loss against your homeowner policy, the insurance company adds this information to the national database.
- The CLUE database is maintained by an information vendor, not another insurance company.
- If you apply for homeowner's insurance with another company - say, you move to another part of the country - the new insurance company can access the CLUE database and learn of your past claims.
The CLUE report also shows the new insurer information about claims you filed under your previous insurer's policy, although nothing filed more than 7 years ago. CLUE might also include information about inquiries you make, even if a claim was never submitted or paid. To find out if this practice is prohibited in your state, contact your state insurance agency.
LexisNexis, a Georgia company that is one of the country's biggest compilers and sellers of personal consumer data issues your CLUE report. A property loss database is also maintained by Verisk's Insurance Services Office (ISO) which calls its database the Automated Property Loss Underwriting System, or A-PLUS. However, because LexisNexis dominates the insurance risk market, reports of property loss have come to be known generically as CLUE reports.
Are CLUE reports only for homeowner's insurance?
No. CLUE reports can cover property loss claims made against automobile insurance policies as well as homeowner's insurance. Automobile and homeowner's claims are maintained in separate databases, and CLUE reports are issued separately based on the type of insurance.
Problems experienced by consumers in the homeowner's insurance market because of errors in CLUE reports have received media attention, contributing to the perception that CLUE reports only pertain to homeowner's insurance. CLUE reports may relate to individual homeowners or to a specific property. Reports of water damage included on a home's CLUE report, for example, could blacklist the property, even if the owner never filed a claim and even if the real estate market is hot. Worse, the seller or buyer is not likely to know about errors in the report until the deal falls through.
What does a CLUE report say about me?
The CLUE report includes personal information such as your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. Tied to your identifying information is a record of any auto or homeowner property loss claims you have submitted to an insurance company for the past 7 years, including:
- Date of the loss.
- Type of loss claimed.
- Amount paid by the insurance company.
The CLUE database may also include notations of property "damage" - even if the insurance company didn't pay out a cent. Any hint of water damage to a property, for example, is likely to trigger a negative mark on the property's CLUE report. Well-intentioned consumers who call an insurer to merely inquire about coverage for water damage have been shocked to have their insurance cancelled. Your chance to get new insurance at a good rate could be affected.
Your state may not allow reports to include inquires that did not result in a paid claim. You may contact your state insurance commissioner to find out what applies in your state.
How long does information stay on the CLUE report?
Seven years from the date the loss is reported. This may include losses for a property before you owned it.
Is my credit history included in a CLUE report?
Only information about property loss claims made against homeowner's or automobile policies is included in the CLUE database. Information from the CLUE database plus your risk score make up the complete insurance risk profile. However, your credit history can play an important part in an insurance company's judgment about your risk potential.
Why do insurers use CLUE reports?
CLUE reports are a way for insurers to share information about your record of filing insurance claims. Insurance companies are by nature in the business of assuming risk. The more that a company pays in property claims, the less it profits. CLUE reports are one of the ways an insurer assesses how much of a risk it is assuming by selling you an insurance policy.
The theory is that an individual's history of filing insurance claims is a good indicator of how likely that person is to file future claims. Taken to the extreme, this process of risk analysis translates to "use it and lose it." If you file a claim against your policy, report damage without filing a claim, or even inquire about your coverage, you may not get new insurance at a good rate - or at all.
What's wrong with CLUE?
Because CLUE is generally unknown to the public, consumers have little opportunity to prepare for an insurance review. Inaccurate or incomplete data included in a report is likely to surface only after you have been turned down for insurance or premiums for new insurance skyrocket. At this point, you, the consumer, assume the burden of proving the data wrong.
Here are some of the problems that lack of knowledge about CLUE reports can create for you:
- Inaccurate information can be included in the report.
- The report may contain information about someone else or another property.
- A report may use information other than claims data to rate you as a risk - even if the company doesn't pay a claim.
- Your phone calls to inquire about a possible claim may be reported.
- The loss may fall below your deductible and the claim is denied or you are advised not to submit a claim. Still, you can end up with a negative mark.
- Even when repairs are made and the property is restored to the original condition, the CLUE report can include information about the claim.
- The report can affect the premium you pay as well as whether you are insured at all.
- Your history as a long-time customer with your prior company is not a factor of the CLUE report.
- An identity thief might file a fraudulent claim, causing your premiums to rise or your policy to be cancelled.
3. CLUE Reports: Laws and Flaws
The federal Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB) requires financial institutions, including insurance companies, to send you an annual notice about how they collect information about you and how the company shares your data inside and outside the company's corporate structure.
However, the annual privacy notice you receive from your insurer will not - and does not have to - explain that:
- The company shares your information with the CLUE database.
- The insurer assigns you a score based largely on your credit history.
- You are entitled to get a copy of your CLUE report and your insurance score.
- You are entitled to dispute errors in the CLUE report.
Since the insurance industry is regulated by the states, the content of an insurer's privacy notice is mandated by your state's insurance commissioner. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners provides contact information for your state's insurance commissioner. To our knowledge, no state requires insurance companies to disclose the sharing of information with the CLUE database in the annual GLB privacy notice. However, your state's insurance laws may require a separate notice when claims information is provided to a national database.
In California, any insurer who issues an insurance policy that covers residential property, which reports claims history or loss experience to a database such as CLUE must provide the insured with a disclosure. CA Insurance Code Section 791.28.
The privacy notices required by GLB must explain what information your insurance company shares with (1) affiliated companies and (2) outside companies, called third-party non-affiliates.
However, the information that goes into the CLUE database does not fall into either of these categories. Instead, information about your claims and damage reports goes to an information reseller, called a "consumer reporting agency" under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). (15 USC §1681a(f))
The reseller acts as an information exchange, obtaining data about you from one or more sources, compiling the data into a report, and reselling it to another insurer. Because CLUE falls outside the provisions of the GLB's notice requirements, the insurer doesn't have to tell you it shares your information with the CLUE database.
Why do CLUE reports fall under the FCRA ?
Most people believe the FCRA just covers credit reports issued by Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, the three national compilers of consumer credit data. However, this is a grave misunderstanding. The fact that consumers have rights at all when it comes to reports other than credit reports is usually only brought to light when there is a problem. Because consumers aren't aware of CLUE, they are not likely to take preventive measures to ensure accuracy.
The FCRA sets the standard for the CLUE report just as it does for credit reports. CLUE reports fall into the FCRA definition of "consumer report," that is, a report bearing on your "credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living." (15 USC §1681a(d)(1))
LexisNexis, the major provider of property loss reports, is a "consumer reporting agency" under the FCRA. That's because LexisNexis "regularly engages in .... the practice of assembling or evaluating consumer credit information or other information on consumers for the purpose of furnishing reports to third parties, and ....uses .... interstate commerce for the purpose of preparing or furnishing consumer reports." (15 USC §1681a(f))
Companies that compile insurance claims reports have been further defined as "nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies." Specialty agencies are required to give you one free file disclosure every 12 months.
Does the FCRA give me any rights?
Yes. When it comes to your CLUE report, you have the same rights as you have for your credit report. In a nutshell, you have the right to access your report and to dispute inaccurate or incomplete information. You are also entitled to notice about an adverse decision based on information in the report.
Can an insurer get my credit report from a credit bureau?
Yes. Access to credit or other consumer reports for insurance purposes is allowed by the FCRA. This means the insurer can go directly to Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax to get your credit report. Credit information is also available to insurers through other consumer reporting agencies such as those that calculate insurance scores.
Can I opt-out of the CLUE database?
No. The opt-out choice you have under GLB does not allow you to opt-out of information sharing with consumer reporting agencies, one of which is LexisNexis. It's the same situation that prevents you from opting out of having your bank share your loan information with the three major credit bureaus - Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax. You don't get a choice.
Do any other laws cover CLUE reports?
State laws that supplement the FCRA for consumer reports also apply to CLUE reports. California has such a law, the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act. (California Civil Code §1786 et seq.)
The California law goes beyond the FCRA in protecting consumers who are the subject of employment reports. However, for insurance customers, the protections only apply if the report is based on personal interviews. This is a shortcoming of the California law. (Civil Code §1786.2(c); Insurance Code §791.02(n)).
Before deciding whether to sell you an automobile or homeowner's insurance policy, an insurer above all else wants to know how much of a risk you are, that is, how likely it is that you'll file a claim. Not even insurance companies can predict the future. Instead, to determine your risk profile, certain characteristics or criteria about you are given a point value. Some things such as a solid credit record add points to your score and some things like a bankruptcy mean points are taken away. Each characteristic is based on a statistical model from past experience to determine how likely an event is to occur in the future. Points given to each factor in the statistical model add up to your score.
What factors go into my insurance score?
Scores for both automobile and homeowner's insurance are based primarily on credit reports and public records information. This means a record of late payments can increase the amount you pay in insurance premiums, or a poor credit history can even mean you don't get insurance at all. Some insurance companies develop their own statistical model of the insurance score, which may include loss data as well as credit data.
Credit reports usually include information on public records related to financial matters. Here are some of the public records filings that can have a negative impact on your insurance score: bankruptcies, foreclosures, tax liens, civil judgments, garnishments, and civil lawsuits.
What does my credit history have to do with my driving ability?
It's a fair question to ask: "What does my history of paying bills on time have to do with the rate I pay for auto or homeowner's insurance?" After all, insurance is not like a loan. If you don't pay the premium, your coverage is dropped.
To justify their scoring systems, insurers rely on statistical analyses that they claim show a direct correlation between a person's credit history and the likelihood of filing future insurance claims. But is it fair to rely on credit reports to set insurance premiums? And does the insurance industry discriminate against some segments of society like low-income consumers in so doing, in violation of state and federal equal opportunity laws?
Numerous studies have been conducted on the impact of credit-based insurance scores, including one conducted by the Federal Trade Commission and reported to Congress in 2007. The FTC’s report to Congress examined the use of insurance credit scores, including the potential for a negative impact on certain groups.
Most states have adopted a law or regulation restricting the use of insurance scores. Generally, states say that insurance scores cannot be used as the sole base for making insurance decisions. Most state laws are derived from a model code adopted in 2002 by the National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL).
A few states have outright bans on the use of credit-based insurance scoring. In California, for example, credit scoring is not allowed for personal automobile policies. California law does not specifically prohibit scoring for homeowners’ policies, but rates may not be unfairly discriminatory. Massachusetts also bans the use of credit scoring for rating purposes. Hawaii does not permit its use for auto insurance and Maryland bans it for homeowners insurance. The most current information is available through your state insurance commissioner.
No matter what your state says about credit-based insurance scoring, federal law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, says if you are denied insurance coverage or receive a less favorable rate because of your credit, you must receive what’s called an adverse action notice along with a free copy of your credit report and information about how to dispute information in the report.
Is my insurance score the same as my FICO score?
No, they are different but the concept is the same. FICO stands for Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that pioneered the development of scoring tools to determine credit risk. The FICO score is a risk calculation based on your credit history that is used by lenders to predict how likely you are to repay your mortgage or car loan.
Insurance scores are also based largely on credit history, but the characteristics fed into the insurance score are supposed to predict how likely you are to file an insurance claim. Therefore, the criteria that goes into the score, is tailored to risk of filing a claim, not repayment of a debt. Consumers are now becoming more educated about the factors that make up a credit score. The insurance scoring process is still largely a mystery to most consumers. However, insurance scoring, especially the potential for discrimination, is a "hot button" consumer issue being debated at both the federal and state fronts.
Is there a standard score model used by all insurance companies?
No. Scoring models have been developed by LexisNexis and other scoring vendors. Fair Isaac, the company that leads in credit scoring, has also developed an insurance scoring model. Many insurance companies have developed their own scoring models.
It is a good idea to ask your insurance agent what scoring model the company uses. The criteria insurers use can vary from company to company. Some companies, for example, may consider your choice to live without credit a negative factor. Without a credit history, you may not have an insurance score. Lack of a score can in turn affect your ability to get insurance at a fair price.
5. Summary of Your Rights - Complaints and Disputes
When it comes to the CLUE report, you have the same rights as with your credit report:
- You can get a copy of your CLUE report and insurance scores. And now, under recent amendments to the FCRA, called the FACT Act, you can get one free copy a year of your CLUE report.
- The insurer must notify you if it intends to take an "adverse action" based on information in the CLUE report. Examples of adverse actions include denial of a new policy, or a new policy premium that costs more because of so-called negative factors.
- If you have been denied insurance, your policy has been cancelled, your coverage has been limited, or your premiums have increased, you are entitled to a free copy of your report - over and above the one free copy per year you can obtain under the FACT Act.
- You can dispute inaccurate or incomplete information included in the CLUE report.
- The consumer reporting agency that prepares the report must investigate disputes.
- If you are not satisfied with the investigation, you can file a statement that must be included in all future reports.
- If you have been turned down for continuing coverage or your premiums have increased because of inaccurate data that affected your "score," you should receive an adverse action notice and a free copy of your credit report. You can dispute such score-related inaccuracies just as you can inaccurate claims information in your CLUE report.
- These rights also apply to the A-PLUS report, the less common property loss database.
How can I file a complaint about an insurance company?
Insurance is regulated by states, and each state government has an insurance commissioner. You should file a complaint about an insurance company doing business in your state with your state insurance commissioner.
The web site of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners enables consumers to contact the insurance commissioners in each state in order to file a complaint.
California consumers may file a complaint by calling the Insurance Commission's consumer hotline (M-F, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.), (800) 927-HELP (800-927-4357).
You may also want to file a complaint about the CLUE or Verisk report. For example, perhaps you were not able to correct inaccurate information even though you filed a dispute and provided evidence of the inaccuracy. In such cases, you should complain to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is the government agency that oversees consumer reports like CLUE and consumer reporting agencies that prepare such reports. You should also complain to the FTC if your insurer did not give you the appropriate notice of adverse action required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
What is the difference between a "complaint" and a "dispute"?
A complaint is made to a government agency that oversees a company or its activities. State insurance commissioners oversee insurance companies. Thus, a complaint about the insurance company's practices should be made to your state insurance authorities.
You may also file a complaint with the FTC. This federal agency gets involved when insurance companies use consumer reports such a CLUE reports that are governed by the FCRA. The FTC has authority over insurance companies that use consumer reports as well as companies that issue the reports. You may also file a complaint directly with an insurance company.
A dispute is a formal process outlined in the FCRA. The law requires a consumer reporting agency to investigate your claims of inaccurate information included in a consumer report.
How do I file a dispute?
Here's an example of how the dispute process works:
- You apply for automobile insurance, and the insurance company orders your automobile CLUE report.
- The insurer tells you it will not issue a policy because of claims paid by your current insurer.
- The insurance company that turned you down must give you an "adverse action" notice that includes the name and contact information for the consumer reporting agency that issued the CLUE report. (FCRA §615, 15 USC §1681m)
- The adverse action notice must also tell you about your right to get a free copy of the CLUE report as well as your right to dispute inaccurate or incomplete information in the report.
- You have 60 days after receiving the adverse action notice to request your free CLUE report from LexisNexis. (FCRA §612(b), 15 USC §1681j(b))
- After reviewing the CLUE report, you find claims that were paid against someone else's policy, not yours. You file a written dispute with LexisNexis, the provider of the CLUE report, about the erroneous information at the address given in the adverse action notice.
The dispute process under the FCRA is detailed in section 611 (15 USC §1681i). The consumer reporting agency upon receiving your dispute:
- Must investigate before the end of 30 days after the dispute is received.
- May extend the time for 15 more days if you provide additional information within the first 30-day period.
- Within five days must notify the company that provided the disputed information, along with any information you submit to substantiate your dispute.
- Must remove the disputed information if, after investigating, the information cannot be verified.
- Must send you a written notice not later than five days after the investigation is completed.
- Must notify you within five days if information you disputed is later reinserted.
6. Rights for California Consumers
California enacted two laws in response to numerous reports that consumers had their insurance cancelled or premiums raised for simply calling their insurance company to ask about coverage, even if they never filed a claim.
An amendment to Section 791.12 of the California Insurance Code (AB 1049) says an insurance company cannot base an adverse decision on the fact that a consumer inquires about coverage when the inquiry does not result in the filing of a claim. This applies to residential fire or property insurance policies, that is, homeowner's insurance only.
Another California law gives consumers rights to receive notice when insurance is cancelled, coverage is limited, or premiums are increased. (California Insurance Code 678, 679.9)
If your coverage is limited - for example, the company says water damage will no longer be covered - or if your policy is cancelled, the company must explain the reasons why. The company must also tell you how to contact its consumer complaint section and the California Department of Insurance.
If your premium is changed, the insurer has 15 days to tell you:
- The amount of the premium increase or decrease in comparison to the prior premium.
- The reason for the change in premium.
This is not automatic. If your premium changes, you have to ask for the above information.
You are entitled to free reports in one of two ways:
- If an insurance company makes an adverse decision based upon consumer report information, the insurance company must tell you how to obtain a free report.
- If you exercise your rights to a free insurance "specialty" report, the consumer reporting agency, that is LexisNexis or Verisk ISO, must provide a free file disclosure every 12 months.
What does "adverse action" mean?
There are a number of situations where an insurance company might make an "adverse" decision, triggering your right to a notice and free copy of your report. Here are some examples:
- You apply for homeowner's insurance with a new insurer and you are denied insurance because of the claims reported in your CLUE report.
- Your existing insurer checks your credit report and increases your premiums because of late payments or public records such as a bankruptcy or tax lien. The weight to be given such negative factors is for the insurance company to decide, not the consumer reporting agency that prepares the report.
- You apply for automobile insurance but are turned down because your credit history is too "thin" to rank the insurer's level of risk in insuring you.
When can I get my free CLUE report?
Even if you have received a free report because of an adverse action, discussed above, you still have the right to receive a free annnual report.
You can get your free claims history or CLUE report from LexisNexis, online at www.lexisnexis.com/risk/factact/ or call (866) 312-8076.
You can get your free A-Plus Report from Verisk ISO, online at http://www.verisk.com/underwriting/how-to-order-your-free-a-plus-loss-history-report.html or call (800) 627-3487.
Keep in mind that insurance decisions may also be based on your credit history. For this reason, it is a good idea to exercise your right to free credit reports as well. Consumers are also entitled to one free credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus.
- Monitor your credit report by ordering it once or twice a year. Much of your insurance risk profile is based on your credit history.
- Order your free CLUE report, especially if you are shopping for new insurance. Your home's CLUE report includes information about all claims of damage filed for the property itself. This could include claims filed by you and previous owners of the property. Remember, the claims report for your homeowner's insurance is separate from the claims report for your auto insurance.
- If you are purchasing a home, ask for a copy of that home's CLUE report. In this situation, it is best to ask your sales agent to help you get a property report. It is not likely you will be able to get a CLUE report on a property you do not own.
- Examine the CLUE report carefully for errors and incomplete entries.
- For problems, complain to your state insurance commissioner. Your state insurance commission is likely to be interested in learning about your problem as more and more states are dealing with consumer protection and privacy issues raised by the CLUE reports and insurance scores.
- Complain to the FTC if you do not receive a notice of adverse action or if you are unable to correct inaccurate information in your CLUE or A-PLUS report. Its web site provides an online complaint form. Or you may call the FTC at (877) FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).
- Think twice before calling your insurance company with a claim-related question. Unbeknownst to you, the agent might report the "incident" to CLUE. Also determine if you really need to or want to file an auto or homeowner-related claim at all. Until we have better consumer protection laws, you might be better off paying for the damage out of pocket, especially if the dollar amount is low.
- Ask your insurance agent what, if any, credit-based scoring models the company uses. Also ask for an explanation of the criteria and range of scores available. You may not get an answer unless your state requires disclosure of insurance scores.
- If you don't get a satisfactory answer about your company's use of insurance scores, complain to your state insurance commissioner and your state legislative representatives. Insurance commissioners have authority to act only within the limits of the law. It is the state lawmakers who have the real authority to protect your rights.
You are entitled to one free report in any 12-month period under the federal FACT Act.
If you want additional reports from either LexisNexis or Verisk ISO during the 12-month period, you could be charged a fee. Most likely, however, the reason you want a report will be because of an adverse action taken by an insurance company based on the information in the report. In this situation, you are entitled to a free report as discussed above in Part 7.
- CLUE Reports: Visit the LexisNexis website or call (866) 312-8076 (automated voice line).
To order your free report by mail:
LexisNexis Consumer Disclosure Center
P.O. Box 105295
Atlanta, GA 30348
When you write, LexisNexis will send a report request form. If you have questions about CLUE reports and want to talk with a LexisNexis representative, call (888) 497-0011 (M-F, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. EST).
- A-PLUS Reports: Visit Verisk's website for instructions or call (800) 627-3487. Free A-PLUS reports cannot be downloaded. Reports will only be mailed, and you should get yours within 15 days of your request.
If you want to order more than one report within a 12-month period, call the A-PLUS Consumer Inquiry Center at (800) 709-8842, option 2. You will be sent a Request for Disclosure Form, along with instructions on how to complete and return the form.
- Federal law
Fair Credit Reporting Act, (15 USC §1681 et seq.), as amended by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA)
- California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act, California Civil Code §1786
Insurance Organizations and State Insurance Agencies
National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)
2301 McGee Street, Suite 800
Kansas City, MO 64108-2662
Telephone: (816) 842-3600
Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Reports: What Insurers Should Know
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
The 'Other' Consumer Reports: What You Should Know about Specialty Reports
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