Thieves steal religiously. While some thieves steal cars or burglarize homes, other thieves go to business school, or law school, and learn to look pretty while practicing deception. They take jobs as salesmen and accountants, CEOs and CFOs, stockbrokers and lawyers, politicians and oil executives.
Regardless of their titles, thieves live to steal. Some thieves steal large amounts of money in a single spectacular score—“Oceans 11” and “The Italian Job” glamorize these crooks. But there is another type, just as crooked, that steals relatively small amounts of money from lots of people. This type Wall Street seems to reward handsomely. If someone wanted to steal $100 million they could either steal a certain Picasso painting or they could wrongfully overcharge 12 million consumers 69 cents a month for 12 months on a revolving charge account or monthly billing statement. Both scenarios gross $100 million. The difference is that the criminal authorities will search high and low for the thief that stole an ugly Picasso. Not many criminal prosecutors want to spend time listening to a consumer convinced his cable bill is 69 cents too high.
The law has a plan to privately prosecute thieves that steal relatively small amounts from consumers. The legal plan is for private citizens to find lawyers who will help them identify and prosecute companies that cheat lots of consumers out of their money. The clients and their lawyers can use a class action to challenge illegal corporate behavior such as overcharging consumers, failing to honor warranties, not paying employees their legal wages, or unfairly treating a recognized minority group.
As a lawyer that prosecutes consumer class actions, I’ve noticed that corporations rarely, if ever, admit that they took the money or did any bad deed. In this regard, corporations are truly soulless entities that have no conscience. Many corporations only exist to make as much profit as possible as quickly as possible. As a result, some companies can, and do, devise schemes to illegally cheat consumers out of small sums of money, betting that the amount goes unnoticed. Even if it is noticed, these companies count on American consumers’ natural inclination to trust the companies they do business with.
As we have seen recently, placing unearned trust in corporations, bankers, politicians, and yes, even lawyers, can come with a pretty expensive price tag. When corporations, bankers, politicians, lawyers or others choose to deceive, even a little, those who trust them, the financial consequences can be staggering. Class actions, used correctly, can help expose deception, recoup consumer losses, and make stealing 69 cents a month a lot less attractive to the professional thief with the pretty pedigree.
 On May 4, 2010 a Picasso painting sold at auction for nearly $106.5 million.
 Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I’m confident most rational people without $100 million would second my assessment of Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.” Picasso took one day to paint this “beauty.” It shows.
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