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The Watchdog: Make a difference in your life — be your own watchdog

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Dave Lieber, The Dallas Morning News

Four years ago, without warning or official announcement, The Watchdog plopped onto the Metro page of The Dallas Morning News. Bam!

The Watchdog replaced "The Problem Solver" column.

If you follow my column on Fridays and Sundays, you know I'm not primarily a problem solver (although I've been known to solve a thousand or more).

I'm a problem creator.

My goal is to expose corruption and bad practices in business and government. The Watchdog wants to embarrass bullies and expose frauds.

That's one part. The Watchdog also wants to help people who believe they have no power to learn how to overcome and win on their own.

Truth is, you don't need me. You have more power than you know. This Saturday, I'll host a free seminar at The News to show you how to use that power to protect your family and business. More on that in a bit.

Imagine if you received thousands of heartfelt emails, letters and social media messages each year from your audience. You learn what they love, what they hate, what they want to fix.

You see patterns, too. Patterns of why things go wrong. Patterns where the same bad decisions are made. Patterns that show how to do things the right way.

I'm not immune to a good rip-off artist. I'm a mistreated, stepped-upon consumer, too. First roofer I hired after a hail storm got confused on the address and roofed the wrong house. Second roofer I hired filed bankruptcy and went to jail for theft. Way to go, Dave.

AT&T was overcharging me (I didn't know I qualified for a corporate discount). Someone wrote a $279 check in my name at Wal-Mart. I ordered something on the Internet and it didn't arrive. My electric bill was too high because I didn't know how to shop smartly for electricity. Sound familiar?

What if?

What if I combined problems I was hearing about with the patterns I was seeing? What if I took all this information and devised principles that serve as a self-help guide to avoid headaches?

How to hire a roofer. How to force AT&T to behave (still working on that one). How to handle someone writing a bad check in your name without worry. How to get what you rightfully ordered off the Web. How to cut your electric bill in half.

That's when I decided to create a consumer rights movement, "Watchdog Nation." In a world where the big stomp the little if they can get away with it, you must protect yourself. Nobody else will.

Everybody must be their own watchdog.

But how?

Watchdog Nation couldn't exist without what I call "the magic Google box." You can check anything out. Ask a bunch of questions. In a matter of seconds, for free.

Everybody you hire and everything you buy can easily be checked out before, not after.

A sampling of WDN principles we'll talk about Saturday:

Use government regulators. If your home warranty company won't properly fix your air conditioner, complain to the industry regulator. In Texas, it's the Texas Real Estate Commission. Who knew?

Threaten with small claims court. In a dispute with a company, tell them you're considering a small claims court lawsuit. No lawyer needed. Claims up to $10,000. Let them know you know about this option.

Keep a recorder by the phone. Did you know that a telemarketer who calls you on the phone, illegally, could face an $11,000 fine for each call?

These tips and hundreds more are in my award-winning book, Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, now in its fourth edition.

We'll talk about these strategies at the seminar.

My colleague Marina Trahan Martinez and I invite you to our free watchdog training session from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday at The Dallas Morning News' downtown offices, 508 Young St.

You'll become a full-fledged citizen of Watchdog Nation, complete with ID card. (Show that to the scammers!)

Bring friends. We'll have fun. You can RSVP on my Facebook page, "Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation." (But if you don't and still come, I've got a seat for you.)

Marina and I can't wait to meet you! Can't wait to show you the tools and strategies that citizens of Watchdog Nation use to save time, money and aggravation. Can't wait to show you how much power you truly have.

Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.

If you go

What: Watchdog Nation free seminar

When: Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon

Where: The Dallas Morning News, 508 Young St.

Parking: Free on campus

Questions: Write to watchdog@dallasnews.com.

RSVP: "Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation" on Facebook

ABOUT THIS COLUMN

The Watchdog Desk works for you to shine light on questionable practices in business and government. We welcome your story ideas and tips.

Contact The Watchdog

Email: watchdog@dallasnews.com

Call: 214-977-2952

Write: Dave Lieber, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265