For years, Vision Improvement Technologies (VIT) has made some rather remarkable advertising claims that appeared to be “too good to be true.” Now, it appears that is exactly what they may have been.
A consumer fraud action has been filed by the Iowa Attorney General, Tom Miller, against VIT of Fairfield, Iowa, with respect to its product known as the “See Clearly Method,” which claims to improve vision significantly through eye exercises alone.
According to Miller, the lawsuit “asks the court to halt the unfair and deceptive practices, assess civil penalties, and provide appropriate reimbursement for consumers." In addition to deceiving customers, VIT is also alleged to have made it difficult for them to return the $350 product.
According to the lawsuit, the “See Clearly Method” consisted of video and audio tapes that were sold since 2000 nationwide on the radio, television, print ads, and a web site. The kit demonstrated a system of eye exercises that were supposed to improve vision without the need for glasses or stronger lens prescriptions.
The system was partially founded on the work of William H. Bates in the early 1900s. The suit alleges that Bates’ ideas and techniques have been discredited by eye experts for decades.
The action also alleges that VIT marketed the product in a misleading fashion by stating customers had a 30 day free trial period and that it was easy to return the kit for a refund.
The suit alleges that most customers were pressured into buying the product for between $359 and $380 dollars in 2004 and 2005. The so-called “easy” refund process required a special authorization number and customers who called to get it were kept on hold for long periods or left messages for staff that were never returned.
Many consumers also complained the system was simply not effective and did not live up to the claims made by VIT. According to Miller: "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."
Under Iowa law, a seller is required “to be able to substantiate such ambitious claims, but we allege this company could not do so," said Miller.
Additional allegations against the company include: advertisements that featured testimonials from people with undisclosed connections to VIT (some of whom regularly wore glasses); VIT violated promises not to share customer information by renting out customer lists for marketing; VIT falsely claimed the exercises would be easy and fun when in fact they produced headaches in some consumers; and overstatements of positive consumer response to the product.
Although VIT claimed the “See Clearly Method" had a scientific foundation, the only study testing it was performed by people with an ownership interest in the product. Moreover, it is claimed that any studies were not conducted in accordance with scientific standards.
Of the 575 Iowa consumers who bought the system between January 1 and August 27, 2004, some 50% returned the product to the VIT. In fact, of the 5,000 to 10,000 kits shipped a month about half were returned by consumers within the 30 day refund period.
Significantly, VIT is also alleged to have misled the public by stating it received letters on a daily basis from satisfied consumers who claimed to have enjoyed great improvement in their vision when, in fact, positive letters were rare and were far outnumbered by complaints from unhappy customers.
Miller said: "Our fundamental allegation is that the defendants represent that the See Clearly Method is generally effective in improving eyesight, that many or most Method users can reasonably expect to discard corrective lenses, and that the Method is scientifically grounded. We allege these representations lack substantiation, and are false.: