Free money is good. Getting free money as retribution from a misbehaving company — like a robocaller — is even better, says David Bookbinder. He was bragging to friends the other day about a $77 check he received because he’d registered as a “victim” in a class action lawsuit…months ago.
“This one I had to Google the case name to remind me what it is for,” Bookbinder told me. The check was the result of a settlement in a robocalling case filed against a Texas-based firm named Pivotal Payments. The firm was accused of robocalling small businesses under the name Capital Processing Network, pitching payment processing tools, in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Pivotal agreed to settle the case without admitting any wrongdoing. Lawyers estimated that class members who received unwanted solicitation calls would receive between $20-$60 from the settlement; Bookbinder did a little better than that when the payments were disbursed earlier this month.
“I take solace in picturing the defendants writing this check out,” he said, when bragging about the $77 payment.
The Massachusetts small business owner says he registers as a victim — that is, as a member of a class — in every class action lawsuit he hears about. Through the years, he figures he’s collected thousands of dollars, and rattled off a long list of cases to me. Optical drive cases. Retailers. Websites.
“One paid $600 or $700,” he said.
(It’s too late for the Pivitol case, however. Registration for class members ended last year.)
Bookbinder says he finds out about ongoing class action cases in various ways. Some he hears about in the news; some, from Slickdeals.com.
“Sometimes I get notified of them,” he said. “I always tell people to fill these out. Apply for whatever ones you can qualify for. The money is going to be paid, and the more people who apply, the more gets paid to them instead of the attorneys.”
Unclaimed class action settlement funds are disbursed as directed by the settlement terms: Sometimes they revert to the defendant, sometimes they are paid to the class members who register, and sometimes the money goes to charity. The more people who register, the more the firm accused to wrongdoing is forced to do right by its “victims.”
While lawyers do often earn millions in fees from class action cases, consumers rarely get rich from the payouts. Most are humble — $10 or $20, or even just a coupon. Still, registration is usually simple, and worth the trouble, Bookbinder says. As long as you’re patient.
“One thing to remember is, it can take a long time until a settlement is reached and you finally get paid. Often years. Most of these I forget about,” he says. Until he cashes the checks.
If you are thinking about copying Bookbinders’ technique, there’s one important caveat: Offers of free money are often scams. So are websites asking for a lot of personal information. Be extremely careful when deciding to register with a site claiming it can make you a member of a class and eligible for a potential settlement payout.
“Use the same rules you apply for phishing,” Bookbinder says. Look for signs that the URL seems bogus – bad spelling, an unusual web address, no reachable phone numbers.
Also: Find an unaffiliated source to confirm the lawsuit is legitimate. Find a news story about it, or visit the court’s website to look for related court filings. The site announcing the class action settlement should also include links to all relevant documents.
“I have a pretty good BS detector,” Bookbinder said. And a nose for consumer justice.