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You probably know that it's not a good idea to make too many claims on your homeowners insurance policy, because your insurer could drop you.

What you might not know is that a claim could make selling your home more difficult down the road. What's more, you could find your home's value damaged or a sale jeopardized even if a previous owner, and not you, made a claim.

Insurers increasingly are using a huge industry database, called the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, or CLUE, to drop or deny coverage based on a home's history of claims or damage reports.

Insurance companies are terrified of rising losses from water and mold damage. So a single report of water-related problems may be enough for insurers to shun your home.

Jan and Kevin Garder of Bremerton, Wash., discovered this the hard way. The Garders thought they were doing the right thing when they told their insurance company, State Farm, about some minor water damage caused by a rainstorm.

Liz Pulliam Weston

Liz Weston

Consumers held hostage

After discussing the damage with the company, the couple, who say they had been with their insurer for 30 years without filing a claim, ultimately decided not to file one time either.

That didn't stop State Farm from dropping them as customers, they say. Not only that, but they say State Farm also shared the damage information with the CLUE database. When the Garders applied for coverage elsewhere, the other insurers cited State Farm's damage report as the reason they wouldn't write a policy, Jan Garder said.

"Until then, we didn't know anything about the CLUE database," she said. "We really didn't have a clue."

State Farm declined to comment on the Garders' case, citing privacy concerns.

According to the company that operates CLUE, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, the database collects damage reports as well as claims. The information stays in the database for up to five years.

Insurance companies get aggressive

In previous years, insurers used the CLUE database in large part to watch for fraud and for consumers who had a history of filing numerous claims.

After losing billions of dollars on homeowners insurance in recent years, however, insurance companies have become more aggressive about screening for other risks -- including damaged homes that could spawn future claims.

The nation's largest property insurers have dropped thousands of policyholders from coast to coast and stopped writing homeowners insurance in more than a dozen states. So far, insurers' increased use of the CLUE database has not caused serious problems for the real estate industry, said George Tribble, a member of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers' board of directors.

But Tribble said he has heard a number of anecdotal reports of residential sales falling through at the last minute because of CLUE-related problems in securing insurance.

"If you're not able to get insurance, you're not able to close the deal," he said.