Colin Rowland is a graphic artist, working on his latest project.
He always likes a little extra cash to help him put together his next gallery show. So whenever he's notified about a class-action settlement that he's eligible for, he jumps on it.
He recalled one from a couple of years ago.
"It was a postcard. It just said we could collect something for an insurance policy, where we were overpaying," Rowland said.
The few minutes he took resulted in almost $100 in insurance money refunded to him.
"We went to the website, we filled out the application and we received a check a few months later," he said.
Many people discard notices
Unfortunately, most of us have received postcards in the mail saying you qualify for cash back on some purchase, but we often throw it away. You may just think it's junk mail, or something requiring too much personal information.
"I probably did that," Jocelyn Washington said. "I toss a lot of mail."
But Washington said she's going to pay more attention now, after we told her about all the class-action cases just waiting to hand out money.
And it's easier than ever now to find cases you may qualify for.
How to find free money
That's because the non-profit group "Consumer Action" recently put together aClass-Action Database, listing hundreds of settlements that could net you anything from $3 in coupons all the way up to $5,000 cash.
"They get a bad rap, but in the end this is a mechanism that helps consumers and in the end benefits consumers," Linda Sherry of Consumer Action said.
Sherry said many people complain about the high fees attorneys often collect in these cases. And they sometimes do.
But she says class-action suits are worthwhile, because they hold companies' feet to the fire when they don't deliver what they promise.
Current hot settlements
Among the current hot cases on her group's website that you can still join:
Wells Fargo unsolicited home mortgage calls: If you received one of their automated calls, you could collect as much as $50, as part of a $16 million settlement for violating robocalling rules.
McAfee Anti Virus software: If yours was auto renewed at a higher price than you paid the year before,you can collect a quick $11.
Johnson and Johnson baby bath wash: For saying it was "clinically proven" when it was not, the company will pay parents $15 with no receipt, or $30 if you have receipts.
My Pillow: This TV infomercial product claimed it could help with restless leg syndrome and insomnia, without scientific proof. Owners can claim $10.
Seventh Generation laundry products: For claiming their products were "all natural," the company will refund up to half of what you paid for their soaps and detergents.
2011 to 2014 Hyundai Sonatas: You may qualifyfor a free warranty extension, for car stalling problems.
Diesel Volkswagens: If you own one,you can collect up to $5,000for VW's deception over gas mileage.
"Everyone that's been following the Volkswagen case knows that this was a really outstanding case of fraud," Sherry said.
Unfortunately, some cases end up delayed for months -- if not years -- when the settlement is contested, or the payout process takes much longer than expected.
Case in point: Last year's much delayed canned tuna settlement (which is still delayed), or the Duke Energy Ohio settlement, that one should be distributed by year's end. (Read more about why the Duke settlement has been delayed here)
But don't give up: New settlements pop up every week on the consumer action database. "Come back to it frequently, because we are always adding cases," Sherry said.
More added every week
Newcomers like Jocelyn Washington said they're going to check it out, because nothing beats easy money.
"I hope I have some," Washington said.
If you would like to see if you qualify for any of these cases, or others, and check the status of settlements that have already closed, go to the Consumer Action Class Action Database.
You can also check another website calledTopClassActions.com, set up by an attorneys association, which often lists additional settlements.
One caution: When applying for these settlements, be careful giving out your Social Security Number. Those should be required only if the case involves a bank or a credit bureau, and even then you should be leery of sharing it.
That way, you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.
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