June 2, 2014; Michigan State University Extension

Consumer Action is a 501(c)(3) that promotes pro-consumer policy, particularly for multi-lingual consumers, in the fields of credit, banking, insurance, and utility. Consumer Action recently announced a free online database for people to find out about class action cases and settlement to determine if they are eligible to participate or file a claim. The database shows these, among others, as class actions open to claims, many with different and less sensational descriptions than those from the all-but-ubiquitous ads by law firms on television hinting at big payouts:

  • Artic Glacier: compensation for up to $6 due to allegations of price fixing of packaged ice
  • JPMorgan Chase: for borrowers who paid for overpriced hazard insurance that JPM forced consumers to purchase (with the bank getting kickbacks from the insurance providers)
  • Trader Joe’s: people who purchased “All Natural” products that were falsely advertised as all natural
  • Telebrands: consumers eligible for up to $20 for having purchased “Pocket Hose” who were allegedly subject to false or deceptive advertisements
  • FitFlop Footwear: eligibility for up to $100 for FitFlop’s alleged false advertising about the benefits its footwear provided over ordinary footwear
  • Banana Boat: potentially up to $20 for replacement of Banana Boat sunscreen products
  • Popchips: Up to $1 per Popchips bag because of false advertising calling the product “natural”
  • Schell & Kampeter: reimbursement for reasonable veterinary expenses regarding allegations that certain Diamond Pet Foods products led to the illness and death of some animals
  • Bank of America: BofA’s failure to report option adjustable rate mortgage (“Option ARM”) interest on borrowers’ Form 1098s between 2009 and 2012
  • Shoe Show: the company allegedly revealed expiration dates and more than the last five numbers on consumers’ credit cards during credit or debit transactions
  • Hi-Tech Pharmacal Co., Inc.: for falsely advertising the efficacy of Sinus Buster products, consumers eligible for a refund of up to $5
  • Honeywell: compensation of up to $18 for purchasing a Honeywell Round Thermostat
  • Hydroxycut: eligibility for a full refund or $50 cash due to allegations of false advertising of the efficacy of Hydroxycut products
  • Wells Fargo: alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act regarding text messages concerning wire transfers
  • Stonebridge Life Insurance: consumers eligible for up to $155 regarding alleged text messaging violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act
  • Vibram shoes: consumers eligible for up to $94 for each pair of Vibram shoes purchased due to allegations of falsely advertising their health benefits
  • Porsche: cash reimbursement for purchasers of Porsche Cayenne cars due to the possibility that plastic coolant pipes might prematurely degrade or fracture

These are all cases that are open to claims. Additional cases are still pending awaiting resolution, including three targeting Ford for engine, fuel tank, and sudden acceleration problems, Bank of America for force-placed insurance something like the JPMorgan Chase item, Apple computers for failing to get parental consent for underage children’s purchases, and privacy violations at Michaels’ stores in Massachusetts.

In the big scheme of things, maybe these consumer actions are tiny and inconsequential. However, for consumers, particularly the Latino and Asian-American consumers frequently assisted by a nonprofit advocate like Consumer Action, reliable, easily accessible information is important. Don’t write off the importance of consumer advocacy that leads to settlements. They may not be the big-money payoffs of some actively marketing law firms, but they remain important reminders to companies that they cannot and should not run roughshod over the needs and interests of consumers.—Rick Cohen