SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Companies accused of inconveniencing, misleading or injuring their customers can face a class action lawsuit, but many consumers don't even know they are owed money.
"I think consumers would be very surprised at just how many class action lawsuits they were a part of." Consumer advocate Joe Ridout says hundreds of suits are filed each year to essentially "punish" companies for misleading customers, and if you've purchased a product odds are, you've been entitled to class action cash.
But its estimated less than ten percent of eligible consumers "claim" their share of these settlements, so consumer action has created database to "help" consumers collect.
Ever buy Johnson and Johnson baby products or "Seventh Generation" cleaning products? You may be eligible for for 10 to 30 bucks due to alleged misleading claims.
Ridout says often proof of purchase isn't necessary. "Even for some of these very large amounts it's not necessarily a high burden of proof."
Current pay outs range from 50 cents for anyone who bought a Starbucks breakfast sandwich last summer to "thousands" of dollars... for those compromised by the 2014 home depot data breach.
"Consumers are never going to get rich off a class action." Legal analyst Melissa Caen points out, it's the lawyers who take home the biggest cut, but she says the threat of a law suit does help to keep companies honest. "The biggest benefit to consumers is that the threat of the lawsuit."
Left over funds are distributed to consumer organizations like Ridout's, though he'd prefer you get your cut. "We want to get the word out before it's too late."
Every settlement does have a deadline and filing a claim for something you never purchased is considered fraud. Companies often "settle" these suits, without admitting wrongdoing.
You can search for a list of class action lawsuits by visiting the Class Action Lawsuit Database at http://www.consumer-action.org/lawsuits.