Seeing the See Clearly Method for What It Is
Scammers become more and more technologically advanced with each passing day, or so it seems. Starting today, in fact, the Federal Trade Commission is holding a series of public hearings on "Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech Age." It's billed as a glimpse into the not-too-distant future, with panels devoted to how changes in products, marketing, and data security are likely to affect consumers.
No matter how sophisticated we become as consumers, however, some scams survive all manner of technological change and find new victims generation after generation.
A case in point: eye exercises to help correct impaired vision.
Eight-six years after this scam first surfaced, a judge in Iowa last week put the kibosh on the "See Clearly Method," promoted in national ads claiming it could save four eyes like myself from having to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses.
The court ordered Vision Improvement Technologies Inc. to stop all sales of "natural vision improvement kits" sold as the "See Clearly Method" as of Nov. 1, and to cease business altogether by Dec. 22. The Fairfield, Iowa, company, which shipped as many as 10,000 kits a month, at a cost to consumers of $350 a piece, was also required to pay $200,000 in restitution.
The kits consisted of manuals, charts, video and audiotapes describing eye exercises. The ads featured testimonials by consumers who claimed to be success stories. However, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller discovered that VIT kept airing the ads after those very same customers had given up on the See Clearly Method and gone back to wearing corrective lens.
Miller filed a lawsuit against VIT in August 2005, which led to last week's court action.
In addition to exaggerated claims of effectiveness, VIT stuck consumers with kits by offering them a "risk-free" 30-day trial period that turned out to be not so risk-free. Consumers who realized their folly and tried to return the kits weren't able to and ended up paying hundreds of dollars.
The See Clearly Method is just the latest incarnation of a scam pioneered in the early 20th century by William Horatio Bates, an M.D. who, in 1920, published The Cure of Imperfect Eyesight by Treatment Without Glasses.
According to quackwatch.org, Bates a few years earlier had partnered with Bernarr Macfadden, "a well known food faddist," to offer a course in the Bates System of Eye Exercises, which included shifting one's gaze from one object to another. But Bates' real legacy was his book, which fueled imitators who recommended people "throw away" their glasses.
Vision problems such as near sightedness, Bates claimed, were caused by eye strain and could be fixed by relaxing the eyes. Eyeglasses were not only a crutch but also made people's vision worse. Bates' method, he claimed, could cure farsightedness, astigmatism, and even cataracts and glaucoma.
The Federal Trade Commission, founded in 1914, filed a complaint against Bates in 1929 for false and misleading advertising.
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