BOOK REVIEW: Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

By Maggie Dwyer

[This review originally appeared on author Maggie Dwyer’s Two Cents At A Time website here.]

Yankee Cowboy Publishing, Keller, Texas, 2010, Second Edition (Revised & Expanded)

$20, and worth every penny.

ISBN-10: 0970853025

ISBN-13: 978-0970853028

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation pays for itself many times over with simple savings ideas, book reviewer Maggie Dwyer writes.

Book reviewer Maggie Dwyer

I’ve been meaning to write this book review for a while, and kept putting it off. Partly because I was busy using the book myself. Since I started following these tips of Lieber’s closely I have changed my phone company, my electric company, and my Internet service. In those few acts alone I’ve paid for the book several times over. But the thing that set me to writing finally was a story a friend told me last week that made me want to kick something. Like a crooked roofing contractor.

My friend has been living in straightened circumstances for a number of years, getting by, but putting off a lot of things that needed doing. Finally, he could no longer put off having his flat-roofed Frank Lloyd Wright-style bungalow re-roofed. I had a real good one to recommend, who has done work for me a couple of times, and came to me via a contractor friend who has also worked for me a couple of times. My neighbors have also used and liked him. Word of mouth and satisfied customers is a good way to find a roofer. But my friend was trying to cut corners so he took the lowball bid from a guy who knew someone he knew. . . not a great introduction.

That job was slow, it was sloppy, and when torrential rains during the job got the house wet, everything turned musty and damp, and tar dripped down spots the inside walls. They didn’t finish promptly, they actually didn’t finish it. The rocks that need to be taken onto the roof are still in the side yard. The roofer had no insurance to pay for the damage to the house.

The worst (you mean, that’s not bad enough?) was discovered last week. The roofers (the only people allowed in this otherwise locked yard with very tall fences and gates) stole several expensive items. The theft was disguised by simply leaving behind the boxes and cases. A new pool pump, a good circular saw, the only evidence of their original habitation there are their empty boxes. Had my friend followed my recommendation, he would have had the job done for about the same quote as this fly-by-night roofer. And he wouldn’t have been out the hardware around the house or all of the time and expense of repairing the house now.

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.I’m sorry I didn’t write this review earlier, because I would have sent a copy of it to my friend and said “Do what Dave suggests – look at the local reviews, check with the BBB (Better Business Bureau), get personal recommendations from people you trust.” The bid price isn’t a bargain if the job isn’t done right, isn’t done at all, or is done so wrong as to cause more damage than a simply leaking roof will do.

I’ve sent copies of pages of this book to people. My brother received the pages (114-15) to do with complaining to the post office. It turns out that you CAN complain, you don’t have to take the desk clerk’s shrugged “that’s tough, you only paid for Priority, it wasn’t insured,” when you complain about something that went wrong that was under their control. (It seems the Artesia, CA, post office has a special drop-kick-and-thrash machine for both envelopes and packages, and special delay of weeks on delivering Priority mail.)

There was a woman at Lowe’s hardware in Fort Worth, TX, who was buying fans, and mentioned, “I have to set up an electric company in this new house. I suppose I’m stuck with TXU.” The clerk and I simultaneously said “NO!” but I was the one who was able to tell her how to do a good search to make a choice – “Go to Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation ( web site and look for his articles about how to choose an electric company.”

Dave Lieber is the consumer advocate columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and he solves this kind of problem and shares the whys and wherefores with his readers for a living. This guy is good. He’s smart, he’s efficient, and I bet when he phones and has someone by the short hairs because of their company’s poor customer service, he’s a bit of a pain in the ass (though I do believe him when he says he tries really hard to be super polite, because he records his calls and if he needs to use them as evidence, he doesn’t want to sound like the bully in the conversation). And that old honey versus vinegar thing. I wish I had his discipline – I’ve had to hang up on some of these folks, telling them “I’m so angry at you I can’t be polite any more. Goodbye.” At least I learned from Dave to stop before I became rude, not slog forward and accomplish little.

Early in the book Lieber notes that 15 minutes a day to solve some of these problems may be the way to pace yourself, to not feel overwhelmed if you have several issues to solve. That’s a good strategy. And keep a separate folder and page of notes for each business and each call. Take names, real names, if possible.

I’ve glossed over a few of the tricks that Dave Lieber discusses in this little gem of a book. You’ll have to read it to find his descriptions of how to make these techniques work. His chapters are each no longer than a typical newspaper column, so you can read through this book a short chapter at a time, or read through it cover to cover in one sitting.

I still have work to do – my local Fort Worth cable company has the most obtuse billing system and the most inefficient customer service clerks I’ve ever encountered. Just try to get a credit to show up on your bill. They apply it to the “taxes and other charges” but it never seems to actually make the balance drop. So I’m still working on that. And on that, my best contact method is another one of Dave’s recommendations (and at least they’re pleasant to talk to, if their efforts still go for naught) is to type my frustration regarding this company into a line of my Twitter feed. Use the pound sign (hashmark) # with no space before the company name to make it easier for them to find your remarks. They’ll usually figure out who you are and actually call pretty quickly. I’ve heard from them within 30 minutes. Who knew?

One of the other really important things Dave comments on is to say “thank you” when it due. I’ve used tweets and written blog entries where appropriate to do just that. So this book review is also a blog entry and a “thank you” to Dave Lieber for a job really well done. I’m happy with the choices I’ve made, but I don’t feel obligated to stay with these companies forever and ever, if they do me wrong. That’s a good lesson!

Now, go ask a bunch of questions!

Dave Lieber's popular button was written about in USA Today.

# # #

Maggie Dwyer of Fort Worth, Texas is a writer and web designer at University of Texas at Arlington Library. She’s a former park ranger naturalist and an avid organic gardener.

Follow Maggie Dwyer’s blog here.

Follow her “A Woman of Many Parts” blog here.

Follow Maggie Dwyer on Twitter @Maggie_Dwyer