While a consumer fraud case proceeds, the agreed-upon injunction restricts marketing claims by the Fairfield company -- and requires timely handling of requests by consumers trying to take advantage of the company's 30-day money-back guarantee
(DES MOINES) A Polk County Judge has issued a temporary injunction restricting certain marketing activities of Vision Improvement Technologies, the Fairfield, Iowa, company that has sold tens of thousands of "See Clearly Method" kits for about $350 apiece.
The "See Clearly Method" is a so-called natural vision improvement kit including manuals, charts, video-tapes and audio-tapes demonstrating eye exercises and other techniques.
Vision Improvement Technologies (VIT) agreed to the Stipulated Temporary Injunction, which will be in force while a consumer fraud lawsuit against VIT proceeds. Attorney General Tom Miller filed the lawsuit last August, alleging that VIT could not substantiate claims that the "See Clearly Method" set of eye exercises can quickly and easily improve a user's vision to the point that glasses or contact lenses are no longer needed. The lawsuit is set for trial in September.
Miller said: "This injunction doesn't resolve the most fundamental problems we alleged, including whether the See Clearly Method really works as claimed, and whether VIT can demonstrate a reasonable basis for its claims, as it is required to do. Those basic issues will be resolved at trial," he said.
"Meanwhile, however, this injunction reins-in some of the specific consumer abuses we alleged in the suit - and it should make it much easier for people to obtain refunds under the company's 30-day refund policy if they are not satisfied with the program," Miller said.
Under the Stipulated Temporary Injunction entered by the Court:
- VIT must not make one-sided references to customer satisfaction without providing a balanced picture of consumer response. (The lawsuit alleges that in one 54-day sampling of actual consumer contacts, VIT received 6 favorable contacts and 49 complaint letters.)
- VIT must disclose to prospective buyers of the See Clearly Method that some users may experience headaches as a result of the eye exercises. (The suit alleges that some consumers reported severe headaches from doing the exercises, but VIT did not inform consumers of that possibility.)
- VIT must disclose that it recommends devoting a minimum of 30 minutes per day to the exercises for best results. (The lawsuit alleges that VIT represented that exercises were easy and required only "minutes a day" when in fact it recommended at least half an hour per day.)
- VIT must change several procedures in how it handles requests by consumers trying to take advantage of the 30-day money-back guarantee. (The lawsuit alleges that customers trying to call the company to arrange to return See Clearly kits were met with various obstacles, including making repeated phone calls without being able to reach a company representative, leaving messages but not receiving a return call, and being left on hold for half an hour or more.)
The Stipulated Temporary Injunction was approved and entered Wednesday by Polk County District Court Judge Don C. Nickerson. [Click here for a copy of the temporary injunction.]
Background and Details:
The Attorney General's lawsuit was filed August 10, 2005. It alleges that Vision Improvement Technologies (VIT) has sold the "See Clearly Method" nationwide since 2001 through radio, television, and print ads, and a web site, www.seeclearlymethod.com. "See Clearly Method" eye exercises and "techniques" included, for example, 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 lawsuit alleges that Vision Improvement Technologies uses a combination of misleading and unfair marketing tactics to sell their kits, including exaggerated claims of effectiveness, false implications of scientific validity, and misleading consumer testimonials in advertising.
The lawsuit also alleges that a so-called "risk-free" 30-day trial period is deceptively presented and ends up obligating many consumers to pay hundreds of dollars apiece for a product that did not help them.
According to the lawsuit, the company has shipped out as many as 5,000 to10,000 kits a month at a cost of about $350 each. 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.
Concerns about refunds:
The suit says that VIT had set up a refund system that required consumers to phone VIT representatives and get a specially assigned authorization number. However, the suit alleges, 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 or 25 minutes or more), or left repeated messages that VIT staff never responded to.
The reports of one consumer, cited in the Attorney General's lawsuit, illustrated some of the concerns with the refund process:
"I waited on hold for so long, I left a message, and again no one got back to me. I started receiving collection notices . . . . I felt like you guys [VIT] had set a trap, you give me the 30 day trial and then make it so I cannot get my return number and stick me with the full bill. . . . I would sit on hold from anywhere between 25 min-45 min, before I would leave a message . . . . and still no call back . . . . I am wanting to return it because I tried a couple of exercises in the book and I got blinding headaches. . ."
To address such concerns, the temporary injunction entered Wednesday requires that calls from customers be answered promptly, that customers not be left on hold for extended periods, and that even consumers who are persuaded to give the product another try be given the information they need to follow through on the refund, in case they change their mind again. In addition, the injunction requires generally that the company "make reasonable efforts to ensure" that a consumer trying to exercise the 30-day return option "can do so easily."