The Watchdog’s picnic basket of consumer goodies is offered here. Some items could save you money, or even make a bit of money for you. At the very least, I bet I can get you to say, “I didn’t know that!”

Let’s start with iPhone batteries. Heard about the class action lawsuit? The deadline to file a claim is days away.

Nearly two years ago, I accused Apple of purposely slowing down older phones to force you to buy a new one. To counter critics, Apple dropped the battery replacement charge from $80 to $29.

To qualify for a potential $25 makeup check from Apple, you had to own an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus or SE version before Dec. 21, 2017. Fill out a simple claim form before Oct. 6.

Go to the lawsuit’s website for what you need: SmartphonePerformanceSettlement.com. Or you can call 833-649-0927.

Up to $500 million could be awarded, with $93 million of that going to lawyers. Apple admits no wrongdoing.

Google+ Lawsuit

Remember Google Plus, the wanna-be social media network run by Google that was shut down? Some users sued accusing big G of privacy violations. Private profile information was exposed between 2015 and 2018. You can file a claim if you were a user. You might get $12, depending on the number of filers.

Go to GooglePlusDataLitigation.com and submit a claim before Oct. 8.

Cut down on unwanted mail offers

Want to slow down the mail dump you receive from credit and insurance offers driven by the four major credit bureaus?

John Adler, an Allen-based robocall blocking expert and Friend of Watchdog Nation (FOWN), recommends you sign up at OptOutPreScreen.com. Even though the form asks for your Social Security number and date of birth, you can ignore those questions and still qualify.

Watchdog’s latest scam trend

The Watchdog sees a scam pattern: criminals pretending to be from the government. Here are recent examples.

Those constant robot-voiced phone calls claiming to be from the Social Security Administration.

Fake tax bills from a pretend-Internal Revenue Service that give a false address for the “Austin Processing Center.”

Emails pretending to come from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation that seek to verify personal information relating to one of the many state licenses issued by the department.

A fake securities regulator calling itself the Board of Securities and Financial Services. Pretending to be based in Austin, the group sought bank account information before it was shut down.

The Texas attorney general’s office suggests: “If contacted by someone claiming to represent a government agency, go to its official website and find a legitimate phone number to confirm.”

Avoiding crowds

Want to go shopping but wish to avoid crowds? Here’s an easy way to check how busy any store, restaurant or commercial location is at a given time.

Go to Google Maps and click on the red pin marking the location. In the wide white bar, scroll down and you’ll see a section labeled “Popular Times.” Based on cell phone data, it shows you whether the store is busy or not, and when are the least and most crowded parts of the day.

Auto insurance rebates

My family’s car insurance bill isn’t dropping even though a tank of gas lasts weeks. I’m barely driving. Yet a rebate check from the insurance company for a few bucks doesn’t cut it, not when companies are making millions of dollars.

In June, six of Texas’ top consumer groups released a plea to Gov. Greg Abbott to get some of that money back into the hands of Texans. They were ignored.

“Consumers deserve some of their money back for the drastically reduced risk of being on the roads right now,” says Bay Scoggin of Texas Public Interest Research Group.

Now several members of the original group are calling a new play. They asked Abbott to appoint a pro-consumer insurance commissioner. Abbott ignored them. I asked his office for a reaction and didn’t get one either.

If you would like to see insurance companies get their behinds whacked in Texas, let the governor know. Abbott appoints the insurance commissioner. His contact numbers are at gov.texas.gov/contact.

Also, call your insurance company and ask for a rebate. Some companies only respond when you ask, Scoggin says.

Halt to recycling

The Watchdog credits Linda Savage of DeSoto for noticing another casualty in the coronavirus era: recycling plastic bags. She discovered that Tom Thumb and sister stores Albertsons in North Texas no longer accept used plastic bags in a store recycling bin.

Store spokeswoman Christy Lara says the decision to halt the recycling program was made in March for safety reasons. The decision is under review, she says.

Small claims up to $20,000

This month a new state law took effect doubling the amount of money you can ask for in justice of the peace/small claims court. The limit for consumers in the “people’s court” jumps from $10,000 to $20,000.

I love the change for obvious reasons. You can try to win more of your lost funds back without hiring a lawyer.

But Dallas lawyer Robert H. Renneker says there’s an ulterior motive. Increasing the limit, he says, makes it easier for debt collection companies to sue. Why? The rules of evidence and discovery are not always applied in small claims court. So someone getting sued for debt may have a harder time proving they don’t owe the money.

If a losing consumer can’t post a bond for twice the amount of the judgment, he says, “there’s no appeal, no matter how flimsy the evidence or how unfair the trial in the justice court may have been.”

Check your property tax

Do you remember when I told you about the new website for larger counties where you can check your proposed property tax rates and also send notes to elected officials before they vote to approve the rates?

You were supposed to get a postcard in the mail. If you missed it, here are the sites:

I urge you to check your property listing. Smaller counties get these websites next year.

Tax inflation

Speaking of taxes, thanks to Larry Johnson of Mesquite who sent me his step-grandmother’s 1942 state tax receipt. At first, I thought the Gainesville woman paid a total of $24 in county, state and school taxes.

But upon closer inspection, I see she paid 8 cents in state tax, 6 cents in county tax and 10 cents for school taxes.

Her total tax bill for the year was 24 cents.

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