The Attorney General's consumer fraud lawsuit alleged the Fairfield company could not substantiate claims that its "See Clearly Method" improves people's vision so much that they can "get out of their glasses."
DES MOINES. The Polk County District Court has ordered Vision Improvement Technologies, Inc., to stop all sales immediately of its so-called natural vision improvement kit called the "See Clearly Method." The Court also ordered the Fairfield company to pay $200,000 for consumer restitution.(Copy of the Consent Judgment.)
The Court order resolves a consumer fraud lawsuit filed last year by Attorney General Tom Miller, which alleged that the company could not substantiate claims that the "See Clearly Method" improved people's vision so much that they would no longer need glasses or contact lenses. (Copy of the lawsuit.)
The "See Clearly Method" was a kit of manuals, charts, videos and audio-tapes demonstrating eye exercises and other techniques, such as focusing eyes using special charts or props, facing a bright light with eyes closed at a distance of a few inches, covering eyes with hands for sustained periods, and applying hot and cold wash cloths over closed eyes. The company sold tens of thousands of the kits for about $350 apiece.
"The company made dramatic claims for its product that it could not substantiate," Miller said. "They represented that consumers who used the method could quickly and easily free themselves of having to wear glasses or contact lenses. They used illegal tactics including exaggerated claims of effectiveness, false implications of scientific validity, and misleading consumer testimonials in advertising," he said.
"We also alleged that a so-called 'risk-free' 30-day trial period was deceptively presented and ended up forcing many consumers to pay hundreds of dollars apiece for a product that they wanted to return because it did not help them," Miller said.
Polk County District Court Judge Don C. Nickerson entered a Consent Judgment on Wednesday resolving the Attorney General's lawsuit. The order was agreed-to by Vision Improvement Technologies, Inc. (VIT) and the individual defendants: Cliff Rose, David E. Sykes, David W. Muris, and Gary Korf. The defendants denied violations of the Consumer Fraud Act.
VIT and all defendants must comply with numerous orders under the Consent Judgment:
- VIT must stop all sales of the "See Clearly Method" as of Nov.1, and cease business altogether by December 22, 2006, or as soon thereafter as possible. (VIT's web site now, says: "See Clearly Method No Longer Offered for Sale," and it provides only contact information for inquiries or returns.)
- VIT paid $200,000 yesterday into a fund the Attorney General can use for restitution to consumers, and paid $20,000 to Iowa's Consumer Fraud Elderly Victim Fund.
- VIT must remove all negative credit reports lodged against consumers since the marketing of the "See Clearly Method" began about six years ago.
- VIT and all defendants are prohibited from numerous deceptive practices alleged by the Attorney General, including failing to substantiate claims, abusing testimonials in advertising, and making misleading claims.
"It is particularly important that a company be able to substantiate that its product works when there are so many challenges to the principles and techniques supposedly undergirding the claims," Miller said. "Iowa law requires a seller to be able to substantiate such ambitious claims, but this company could not do so."
"We are confident this puts an end to this Iowa-based program of consumer fraud," Miller said. "It prevents there being any more victims, and it fences in the perpetrators so they cannot perpetrate similar consumer fraud in the future with respect to eye products or any other kind of products."
Guide for purchasers: The Iowa Attorney General's Office provided several tips for purchasers of the "See Clearly Method."
Details and Background:
The Attorney General's lawsuit filed in August 2005 alleged that consumers complained that they were misled about how well the "See Clearly Method" worked, the total price they would be charged, and how easy it would be to back out of the purchase.
Vision Improvement Technologies (VIT) sold the "See Clearly Method" nationwide since 2000 through radio, television, and print ads, and a web site, www.seeclearlymethod.com . Advertisements invited consumers to call a toll-free number for a free informational video -- but consumers who called were pressured to order the entire kit, which retailed for about $350, on a 30-day trial basis.
According to the lawsuit, the company shipped out as many as 5,000 to10,000 kits a month. About half of the consumers who received the kit returned it within the 30 days and were not obligated to make the full payment, but many who did not return it within the 30 days still sought a refund for various reasons.
The state alleged that VIT had set up a refund system that required consumers to phone VIT representatives and get a specially assigned authorization number. However, many consumers who tried to avoid a charge of about $350 to their credit card complained that they tried to call in and get the special number, but were forced to spend very long periods on hold (20 minutes or more), or left repeated messages that VIT staff never responded to.
"Many consumers who sought to take advantage of the 30-day 'risk-free' trial period found that rejecting the product was no easy matter," Miller said.
The suit noted that the company said its "See Clearly Method" was based in part on the work of William H. Bates, who promoted similar ideas and techniques in the early 1900s. But the suit alleged that Bates's ideas have been dismissed by mainstream eye care professionals for decades.
The Washington Post reported in an article on Sept. 12, 2006: "Karla Zadnik, professor in optometry and physiological optics at the Ohio State University College of Optometry, says eye exercises to correct vision have been 'long out of favor' among most vision professionals. Their use 'is not accepted by mainstream optometry,' she says." (Washington Post article, "Eyeballing the Vision Workout," 9-12-06)
The Iowa Attorney General's August 2005 lawsuit also alleged:
- Advertisements featured testimonials from people with undisclosed connections to the company, and ads continued using "no more glasses" testimonials, even after the people making such claims had quit using the product and were wearing glasses most of the time.
- The "See Clearly Method" was claimed to have a scientific foundation, but in fact the only study testing the Method was performed by people with an ownership interest in the Method and was not conducted in accordance with scientific standards.
- The company told consumers that their names and addresses would not be shared except for purposes considered by company doctors to be compatible with the "See Clearly Method," but, in fact, customer lists were rented out for unrelated marketing purposes.
- The "See Clearly Method" was advertised as safe, easy, and even fun, without disclosing that some of the primary eye exercises could produce headaches, and did in fact produce headaches in some users.
- VIT claimed that it received letters every day from satisfied consumers who had enjoyed tremendous improvement in their vision, but, in fact, positive letters were relatively scarce and were far outnumbered by letters from unhappy customers.
- Although the "See Clearly Method" was promoted as an easy and effective way to rid oneself of glasses or contacts, a number of VIT employees and their families continued to rely on corrective lenses, a fact which was not disclosed to potential customers.
The Attorney General's Office will determine a program for restitution using the $200,000 paid and focusing on consumers who had filed complaints with the Office. [UPDATE as of August 2007: The court-ordered $200,000 in restitution refunds ran out in August 2007, so no further refunds are available. See more details at UPDATE at end of release.*]
Miller said: "Our fundamental allegation was that the defendants misrepresented the 'See Clearly Method.' They represented that the Method was generally effective in improving eyesight, that many or most Method users could reasonably expect to discard corrective lenses, and that the Method was scientifically grounded. We said that all these representations lacked substantiation and were false. Now the company must completely stop this deceptive sales program."
The defendants also agreed under the Consent Judgment that records obtained by the Attorney General in the litigation and investigation will be treated as public records.
- 30 -
The Consumer Protection Division has no further funds available to provide refunds to consumers who purchased the See Clearly Method from Vision Improvement Technologies (VIT).
The Polk County District Court Order that resolved Iowa’s consumer fraud lawsuit against VIT (Nov. 2006) provided $200,000 for refunds. That sum was far short of the amount needed to make refunds to all purchasers, but the company was going out of business (and has now gone out of business), and we were pleased to be able to obtain $200,000 for consumer refunds. We also were able to stop all sales of the “See Clearly Method” kits.
In allocating the $200,000, the Attorney General’s Office sent refund checks to each Iowa resident who purchased the See Clearly Method at any time after January 1, 2005. We also made refunds to every consumer (from whatever state) who filed a complaint with our office prior to the Court’s Consent Judgment in Nov. 2006, or who contacted our office after the judgment, for as long as money remained available for refunds. However, after making numerous refunds over almost a year, the refund money ran out in August 2007. Thus, we are not able to provide further refunds.
[END of Update.]