Class-action action

tug of war

Real money pay-off. Sort of.

I've completely lost track of how many notices I've received in the last few years about class-action lawsuits, in which I was a potential member of the class.

The first one, several years ago, was for overcharging by several major airlines on flights that left San Jose, California. If the settlement were approved, there would be restitution. Oh, boy! All you had to do was fill out a lengthy form enumerating all the flights you had taken during the time period in question.

Leave aside the fact that the airlines already knew that in order to identify me as a member of the class! As it so happened, I had kept all my frequent flyer statements so I actually could comply quite easily.

After many months of waiting, the promised restitution finally arrived. It was a packet of coupons, each coupon worth a few dollars off the price of a future ticket. Naturally you could only use one coupon per ticket. Naturally you could only redeem the coupon by buying the ticket from the airline ticket office. Sure, the coupons were worth a few hundred dollars all together, but to use them I would have had to spend thousands of dollars!

I found I could always get a ticket for less by shopping the internet and watching for sales than I ever could by applying a coupon. Big woo — $5 off on a $200 ticket! In short, I never used the coupons, not even one, and eventually threw them away.

I think we can be sure the lawyers weren't paid in coupons.

Since then I have regarded these class-action notices with a jaundiced eye, and if they require me to do anything at all I ignore them unless there's real money involved.

Citibank. Recently I received a notice pertaining to various Citibank credit cards. Lo and behold! This month I received two — not one, but two — checks for my share of the spoils from the suit over interest charges.

checks It's hard to contain my glee: Two separate checks for a total of $2.63. Can't even buy a good hamburger for $2.63. Apart from the paltryness of the amount and the foolishness of issuing two checks to the same person at the same address, I'm embarrassed for Citibank and the administrator of the refunds that the checks contain a blatant error printed in such a large, bold font.

Note the spelled out amounts:

  • "One dollar and .29 cents"
  • "One dollar and .34 cents"

Literally speaking, each check specifies an amount of one dollar and a fraction of a cent each.

AccuBanc. About a month ago I also received a settlement from AccuBanc resulting from a suit about over-charging fees on mortgages. Since AccuBanc handled the original mortgage on my Palm Springs house, and a refinance mortgage as well, I got two settlements.

• The settlement for the original mortgage was for real money: $145.00. Good; that's enough to spend at the grocery store.

• The settlement for the re-finance mortgage was a coupon for $300 off the fees on a new mortgage. That's only good if I take another mortgage with the same bank before May 2005. Fat chance. The only thing that settlement costs the bank is the cost of the paper.

Microsoft. The latest is a class-action against Microsoft. Again you have to fill out a form with the product keys for all the covered software. Duh! Microsoft already knows! They sent me the notice! They've got my name in their database!

They're counting on most people not being able to lay their hands on those old CD's to minimize what the settlement actually costs. Guess what? I've got all my CDs!

Reform

I have a suggestion for reform: If the members of the class get coupons, make the lawyers get paid in coupons as well!