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Highly CommendedComment and Opinion

Power Balance Bracelet
(In June 2011 this site simply said that it was no longer operational)

This site was Highly Commended in the 2009 Millenium Awards. The award citation read:

You take an old trick that scamsters have been doing for eons, dress it up with some pretty design and some sciency sounding words and then get yourself into gymnasiums and convince the sweaty denizens that your magic plastic wrist band can make them stronger and have better balance. Once you have the money rolling in from that (and at $60 each for bangles that probably cost less than a dollar to make it rolls in fast) you convince a television show to give you some free publicity. When that publicity backfires a little and causes some questioning of the product you run away and hide, cutting off all communication with critics because you can't justify the claims you make. The one thing stopping this site from being a candidate for an Anus Maximus Award is that the only damage done to victims is financial and even then $60 is not a great deal of money. Taking it from people without offering anything of benefit in return is naughty, but most people don't die just because someone came along and took their money.

Dear Mr O'Dowd,

Congratulations. Power Balance was Highly Commended in the 2009 Millenium Awards presented by The Millenium Project. The judges tried some of the wristbands on and they unanimously agreed that the bracelets certainly increased the strength of their laughter. The award citation read:

[see above]

Please feel free to publicise your award and display the award logo on your web site. If you wish to collect the physical prize (a tube of haemorrhoid cream and a wire brush applicator) you can do so at your own expense, but please give me sufficient notice so that I can organise the location for the public application of the cream and the accompanying media coverage.

You can see the other award winners at http://www.ratbags.com/rsoles/history/2009/2009awards.htm


Encouragement AwardFollowing their travails Power Balance received an Encouragement Award in the 2010 Millenium Awards. The award citation read:

Power Balance was Highly Commended in the 2009 Millenium Awards, but this year they need some encouragement. Attacked on all sides by television programs, skeptic web sites, the Therapeutic Goods Administration and finally the ACCC, the Australian operation ended the year in tatters. You might even say "out of business". I am sure however that the promoters will bounce back, not with rubber bands bought for cents and sold for $60 but with some other product that doesn't quite do what they don't quite say it does. Burnt once, they will be more careful next time.

Dear Mr O'Dowd,

Congratulations. Power Balance might have been Highly Commended in the 2009 Millenium Awards presented by The Millenium Project, but has only received an Encouragement Award for 2010. The judges felt that you might need encouragement after the TGA and ACCC finished with you. The award citation read:

[see above]

Please feel free to publicise your award and display the award logo on your web site. If you wish to collect the physical prize (a tube of haemorrhoid cream and a wire brush applicator) you can do so at your own expense, but please give me sufficient notice so that I can organise the location for the public application of the cream and the accompanying media coverage.

You can see the other award winners at http://www.ratbags.com/rsoles/history/2010/2010awards.htm


That old black magic (19/12/2009)
It was breathlessly announced in a promotion for the television "current affairs" show Today Tonight that the show was going to feature someone with a special bracelet that "a skeptic could not explain". Here is a transcript of what went to air:

The braceletBracelet claims balance improvement
Reporter: Frank Pangallo
Broadcast Date: December 15, 2009

It is called a Power Balance Bracelet and whatever some people claim to feel when wearing one defies their belief and logic.

Tom O'Dowd has the Australian rights for the bracelet which sells for around $60.

The secret, he claims, is embedded in the hologram on the band and so-called Mylar technology.

"In the Mylar hologram is a frequency and the frequency as soon as it comes into contact with the electrical field of your body basically works with your body's electrical field that gives you a feeling of wellness," Tom claims.

Tom alleges he can demonstrate straight away that it improves balance, strength and flexibility.

Mylar technology supposedly restores the body's frequency to somewhere near the 7.83 hertz required.

"This will make you the best you can be, it won't turn you into Tiger Woods let's put it that way, but it will make you the best you can be," Tom claims.

 

Well, this skeptic had an explanation, and here is the letter I sent to Today Tonight:

Immediately following the story tonight about the magic bracelet fraud, I picked up the first object near my hand (my reading glasses) and showed my wife how they are just as effective as the $60 wristband.

It took me about five minutes to learn the tricks of applied kinesiology (pushing arms to test for allergies), and it would take me about as long to learn how to do this evolution of that old scam.

$60 for a wristband! I wish I'd thought of it, but, then, my conscience doesn't let me rob people.

I do a demonstration of applied kinesiology in my stage shows about quackery, and I will add the variations used by this quack as soon as I have five minutes to perfect the techniques.


You can see some more comment about this fraud here.


More about the magic bracelets (9/1/2010)
As a follow-up to their story about the fraud of charging $60 for some rubber bands, the television program Today Tonight revisited Power Balance, and this time they were going to test the things, not just promote them. My friend Richard Saunders flew half way across Australia to help with the testing, but I'm afraid that what went to air would not have discouraged the average viewer of the program from trying out the scammy bangles. I was invited to appear on the show but I was too busy that day with real work, and had I gone I would have taken a different approach - I would have demonstrated that the magic effects could be produced by anyone without using the bracelets. This is not a criticism of Richard, because we have different ways of doing things, but the problem with shows like Today Tonight is that they have only a short time allocated to each story, and this means that it is difficult to explain to a scientifically unsophisticated audience why a testing protocol produces meaningful results. (On the same night the program ran a story about a house with oil seeping from the walls. They called in some scientists to test it and then simply ignored what the scientists had to say and went right ahead suggesting a supernatural cause.) A quick and simple debunking gives less latitude for editing than a day's experimenting and might mean more to the viewers.

Following the show, several people I know asked questions on Power Balance's Facebook page (there was no facility for communication with the company on its own web site). Without exception they were all banned from commenting, and finally the page was gutted of all content. I wonder why Power Balance are so shy about asking "How does it work?" questions. Actually, I don't wonder that at all.

Here is the program excerpt, with the official transcript below. You can also see it on the Today Tonight site.

Bracelet claims put to the test
Reporter: Frank Pangallo
Broadcast Date: December 22, 2009

Is it a mind blowing scientific marvel or merely the mind playing games with reality?

The promoters of the "Power Balance" bracelet claim it can do amazing things to your body when you're wearing one - things that defy logic or science.

Tom O'Dowd, whose company sells the bracelets in Australia for $60 dollars, says the secret to the bracelet is in a hologram.

"It's a frequency that's been embedded in mylar tech in the hologram and that frequency - when it comes in comes within 2 inches of your skin - reacts with electrical field of your body. You are the battery that powers this product," Tom said.

Richard Saunders from the Australian Sceptics Society says that's nonsense.

Opinion: A very profitable 'trick' by The Australian Sceptics

What is not in dispute is the effect it's had on almost all the people who've tried it, like 80-year-old Joyce Washington.

"I don't know if it gives more energy, but I'm more alert, even round the house I do things thoroughly if I have bracelet on," Joyce said.

Melbourne chiropractor, Dr. Matt Bateman, has tried it on hundreds of his patients, even staking his reputation on it.

"I felt it for myself. There is so much you can fake - I am not faking 500% strength and stability, which is what I felt - I can't fake that," Dr. Bateman said.

Dr. Bateman demonstrated the bracelet on one of Today Tonight's sceptical reporters, Jonathan Creek, with amazing results.

So who to believe? Today Tonight asked Tom to put his claims to a series of tests using six volunteers with Richard Saunders looking on.

Tom carried out his usual balance and strength routine, using a card embedded with the hologram, then with the bracelet. All six reported a positive reaction, but all the volunteers were aware when they came into contact with the hologram and the bracelet.

Richard thinks the positive results might have had more to do with physics or the angles with which Tom was exerting his force.

Next, Today Tonight made a series of blind tests.

Six cards were randomly placed in the pockets of the six volunteers. Only one, the fifth in line, had the card with the hologram. It was up to Tom to detect who had it - he was unable to do so.

The same experiment was repeated using the bracelet. Tom again failed. He also failed a second time when Richard had a hologram hidden in his pocket.

So, is it mind over matter perhaps?

The human brain is a powerful tool and capable of extraordinary things says Professor David Powers. He runs the Artificial intelligence Unit at Flinders University.

"If you tell a person that its going to do something, then show it can find the placebo effect - which means whatever you say they believe it will happen. Sometimes when you have an object that does have an effect, the placebo effect plus a little more, when they have the object if it is stimulating them in some way," he said.

The power of positive thinking - take American Nick Harris. This week he turned superman when he lifted a car off a six year old girl but he's tried to do it again a few times since, without success.

Professor Powers would like to do more research on the placebo effect of the power bracelet, while Richard Saunders and his sceptics maintain it's up there with snake oil.


Power Balance runs away (16/1/2010)
The The magic banglepromoters of the Power Balance magic bracelet scam must really be running scared. Last week I mentioned that they had effectively closed their Facebook site by removing all content and blocking any comments. They have now gone a step further. They also had a range of Facebook pages directed at different locations and languages. The largest of these had about 3,500 fans but even this colossal popularity couldn't protect it from a small group of people asking really difficult questions like "Where is the evidence?" Suddenly and without warning the page simply disappeared. Gone. Without a trace left behind.

What the owners of the page didn't realise in their panic to avoid any criticism is that the critics were getting tired anyway, and were not doing as good a job of discrediting the magic bangle as the single remaining spokesperson for the company was. When the best you can do is to produce someone with an obviously fake name who is illiterate and combines an inability to write and spell with a total lack of even the simplest logic then it is probably time to fold up the tents and leave anyway. As an aside, the spokesperson for the Power Bracelet kept referring to it as "PB♥". Perhaps the final straw was my asking whether this meant she was in love with me.


I could be rich! (8/5/2010)
Remember the Power Balance bracelets, those $60 rubber bands that you wear on your wrist to make you strong and improve your stability? Well, it looks like I could get myself onto the gravy train if this email from China is any indication. And I really like the purple Comic Sans.

From: "Vivian Liu"
Subject: New Model
Date: Fri, 07 May 2010 10:48:29 +0800

Dear Manager,

Good day.

This is Vivian from USDAR. We are a professional manufacturer of power balance bracelet.
Here we have a new model power balance bracelet. It is so popular in world market recently. Are you interested in it? If yes, please let us know.

Thanks & Best regards,
Vivian Liu
USDAR(XIAMEN)Industry & Trade Co.,Ltd
Website:  http://usdar.com
Add:      NO.688 Banshang She, Heshan Road, Huli District, Xiamen, China


Wishful thinking (19/6/2010)
Sometimes I wonder if I am not making myself quite clear when I write things. I have had a bit to say about a heavily-promoted fraud called Power Balance Bracelets, and I didn't think that there could be any doubt about my opinion. Someone didn't quite get the point and sent me this email.

Hi was wondering how do I purchase the power wristband? Can I have an order form sent to my email please, thank you.

I decided not to write back in case I confused matters even further.


Why me? (21/8/2010)
You know those $60 rubber bands that crooks tell you will increase your strength and balance? I might have to go into business selling them, because they look even more profitable than being a homeopath writing labels for bottles of water. For some reason I have been receiving emails from a manufacturer offering these things to me wholesale.

Here are some examples. (I apologise for the large images, but that is how the emails were sent to me - great big pictures instead of text.)

The first one - wholesale price of the $60 rubber bands - $1.17.

Number 2 - Lovely necklaces for $1.19 each (including a pretty box)

Number 3 - Even lovelier necklaces (I do like the necklace/bracelet combination for $2.35 - I could sell that for at least $120.)

And do any of these things work? Well, they certainly improve the strength of the retailer's bank balance, so I guess they do have an effect on both strength and balance. What they do for the purchaser is make them feel stronger and more balanced because their wallets will feel easier to pick up and won't pull down on one side of the body as much.

Have I mentioned that selling these things is committing fraud?


Schadenfreude corner (20/11/2010)
I've Bangles! Magic!mentioned Power Balance magic bangles several times. These are little plastic wristbands which sell for $60 and are supposed to increase strength, flexibility and proprioception. If all (or even any) of the claims were true then wearers would be able to win gold medals in both weight lifting and gymnastics at the Olympic Games. The selling price is ridiculous (I have been offered them by the manufacturer for $1.17 each, including display packaging), but if charging too much for something were a crime by itself then a lot of makers of Swiss watches, jewellery, French handbags, cosmetics and running shoes would be out of business. Voluntary taxation is not a crime.

The difference is that Gucci and Rolex only claim to impress your friends and neighbours, not change the way your body works. They also stay away from claiming that the laws of the universe are suspended when their logos are put on their products. It is useful, therefore, to occasionally remind people that not all the things that are said by people selling plastic strips with holograms on them are actually true. It was good to see that the sellers of the bracelets decided to remind their customers of this and published the following notice on their web site. Oh, wait, they didn't decide, they were forced to admit they had been lying. Crooks are like that.

Power Balance vs TGA

Unfortunately the TGA's Complaints Resolution Panel web site is running a bit behind reality and the determination is not there yet, but as soon as it is there it will here as well.


Power Balance scam (18/12/2010)
Looking

That's a Placebo Band I'm wearing. It does everything a Power Balance band does (nothing) but costs a lot less.
at visitor statistics for this site for the last couple of months revealed that several of the most common terms used by people to get here via search engines included phrases like "power balance". What was really encouraging was that the majority of the things that people typed into Google and Bing also included words like "scam" and "fraud". Of course, when referring to the Power Balance magic plastic bangles, both of these words are redundant.

Earlier this year the Complaints Resolution Panel of the Therapeutic Goods Administration took a close look at Power Balance. They decided that what was being said in advertisements for the magic rubber bands was less that truthful and ordered the company and three web outlets selling the things to stop making ludicrous claims and to display a notice saying that the bracelets were useless. You can read the CRP determination here. I looked at the four web sites mentioned to see how compliance with the determination was going and found the following:

www.powerbalance.com.au

This now redirects to a web site hosted in the USA, which I assume they think takes them out of the reach of the TGA (it doesn't - they do business in Australia). I can't find any claims on the site about what the bangles are supposed to do, but there is the usual collection of testimonials from people who, in many cases, already have other paid sponsorship arrangements with various product manufacturers and suppliers.

I particularly liked the following items on the "Legal" page (and I make no apology for violating Power Balance's copyright by quoting them here):

  • RISK OF LOSS
    All items purchased from POWER/BALANCE are made pursuant to a shipment contract. This means that the risk of loss and title for such items pass to you upon our delivery to the carrier.

    Translation - Once it leaves us, it's yours. Don't complain to us if it doesn't arrive.
  • PRODUCT DESCRIPTIONS
    POWER/BALANCE attempts to be as accurate as possible with regard to the description of its products. However, POWER/BALANCE does not warrant that all product descriptions or other content of this site is accurate, complete, reliable, current, or error-free. If a product offered by POWER/BALANCE itself is not as described, your sole remedy is to return it in an unused condition.

    Translation - Just because we say something doesn't mean that that something is true. If you buy one of these things and it doesn't do what we say it does then that's too bad because once you try it you can't "return it in an unused condition".
www.crazysales.com.auBusiness as usual. The rubber bands are for sale in all sorts of sizes and colours, but no claims seem to be being made about what they do.

www.completehealth.com.au

Again it's business as usual, and again there is nothing about what the things actually do. I do, however, like the following disclaimer which appears when you try to order one.

Warning!!

www.completefitnessaustralia.com.au

This site doesn't seem to have the bracelets for sale any more, but as they offer such frauds as live blood analysis for athletes, selling magic rubber bands was probably a bit low-tech for them anyway.

And what did Power Balance say in their advertisements that caused all the fuss? The fact that people believe this rubbish is an indictment of the education system.


Bangles mangled, lies are balanced by truth (22/12/2010)
The

By Matt Golding at the SMH
 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has finally done something about the ridiculous claims that rubber bands selling for $60 each can have an effect on the body other than lightening the wallet. The real question is, however, how many people will be able to overcome their embarrassment at being conned to return the things for a refund. I suspect that it will be a very small percentage of the victims. And is this the end of this scam? Of course not! The promoters will just be a little more careful next time. Read the ACCC media release here, the ACCC official record here, and the undertaking by Power Balance to be honest in the future here.

Power Balance admits no reasonable basis for wristband claims, consumers offered refunds

Misleading advertising claims about the alleged benefits of Power Balance wristbands and pendants have been withdrawn by the manufacturer after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission intervention.

As a result consumers will be offered a refund if they feel they have been misled and Power Balance has agreed not to supply any more products that are misleadingly labelled.

Power Balance Australia Pty Ltd claimed the wristbands improve balance, strength and flexibility and worked positively with the body's natural energy field. It also marketed its products with the slogan "Performance Technology". The ACCC raised concerns that these claims were likely to mislead consumers into believing that Power Balance products have benefits that they do not have.

"Suppliers of these types of products must ensure that they are not claiming supposed benefits when there is no supportive scientific evidence," ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said today.

"Consumers should be wary of other similar products on the market that make unsubstantiated claims, when they may be no more beneficial than a rubber band," Mr Samuel said.

Power Balance has admitted that there is no credible scientific basis for the claims and therefore no reasonable grounds for making representations about the benefits of the product. Power Balance has acknowledged that its conduct may have contravened the misleading and deceptive conduct section of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

The Power Balance wristbands were widely promoted in the media by various sporting celebrities. The wristbands were sold around Australia in sporting stores and also on the Power Balance website www.powerbalance.com.au

"When a product is heavily promoted, sold at major sporting stores, and worn by celebrities, consumers tend to give a certain legitimacy to the product and the representations being made," Mr Samuel said.

"Retailers that continue to sell the product with misleading representations on the packaging are warned that they may be open to action from the ACCC," Mr Samuel said.

To address the ACCC's concerns Power Balance has provided the ACCC with court-enforceable undertakings that it will:

  • only make claims about its products if they are supported by a written report from an independent testing body that meets certain standards
  • publish corrective advertising to prevent consumers from being misled in the future
  • amend the Australian website to remove any misleading representations
  • change the packaging to remove any misleading representations
  • offer a refund to any consumers that feel they have been misled, and
  • remove the words "performance technology" from the band itself.

Consumers with refund enquiries can call Power Balance on 1800 733 436.

The ACCC has previously taken court action against a number of alternative health providers, including Advanced Allergy Elimination and NuEra, for misleading and deceptive conduct.

And look for this advertisement in a magazine near you. Then laugh.

They tell the truth


Power Balance - the final episode? (22/1/2011)
One day we might see the last of the ridiculous Power Balance magic rubber bands. They have been put out of business in Australia and now someone has initiated a class action against the fraud in the District Court in California, alleging unfair business practices and false advertising. You can see the court filing here.

The unfortunate part is that scams like this are like toadstools after rain. When you think you've seen the last one, more just pop up from the festering mass hidden underground. This wasn't the first attempt to extract money from the wallets of the gullible and it won't be the last.

What was particularly annoying about this scam was how transparent it was. I might be an exception because I've been looking at this sort of stuff for a long time, but even so the smell of fraud and nonsense should be detectable by anyone applying the principle of "If it looks too good to be true it probably is". Celebrity endorsement of the scam didn't help, but again a useful heuristic is to assume that any prominent sportsperson or entertainment personality used in advertisements is being paid to be there, although the cheapness of these bands was such that handing them out to members of sporting teams and hoping that they would wear them on the field without payment was a reasonable advertising approach.


Schadenfreude Corner. (11/6/2011)
Remember those Power Balance magic rubber bands which made you strong and balanced when you wear them? Remember how they were going to revolutionise sport by giving great advantages to wearers? Remember the impressive web site that the company had, extolling the virtues and powers of $60 rubber bands that cost a few cents wholesale? (The last offer I got from Hong Kong was about 60 cents each. How could you not make money at a 10,000% markup?)

Here is the Power Balance web site this week.

I don't know how long I laughed, but I was breathless at the finish.



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