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Aulterra Investigation

The Aulterra Company sells a product called a "Neutralizer" which they claim protects the user from cancer-causing radio waves emitted by cellular phones and other appliances. [1] This product - generally called an "Aulterra" - is given away as a premium to contributors during fundraising on a Los Angeles area listener supported radio station. During the fundraiser, the inventor was interviewed, and he claims to have discovered the special mineral used in the device while experiencing "a trance." [1] Many aspects of the story sounded suspiciously like alternative medicine or pseudoscience terminology. One of the IIG member/volunteers was working the phones during this particular fundraiser, and another IIG investigation was born.

The original idea was to prove to the radio station administrators that they should separate themselves from this product because it discredited the station. Subsequently, it just seemed like a better idea to try to prove that the manufacturers were making fraudulent claims, and should be closed down.

The IIG obtained a set of the Aulterra devices. They turned out to be little round, flat stickers – in other words wholly unimpressive. Members of the IIG who are familiar with physics, cellular technology and research specialists worked on various aspects of research into the background of risk associated with cellular telephones, into Aulterra's corporate structure in particular, into similar products, and into devising experiments to test the Aulterra device and its claims.

While there was initially talk of obtaining a Faraday Cage to test whether the stickers had any effect on radio waves, members of the Aulterra Committee devised a much simpler experiment that exploited the relationship between microwaves and measurable heat. Remember, microwaves are similar to the radio waves associated with cellular phones, and microwave ovens are among the appliances from which Aulterra claims to protect consumers. Using this logic, an experiment was conducted in the CFI-West kitchen which mysteriously contains a plaque reading "IIG lab." Click here for the complete description of this experiment.

Having conducted our own experiment, the investigation took a new turn when one of our investigators discovered that the FTC has shut down businesses in the past that have made claims similar to those of Aulterra. The Lead Investigator filled in the FTC online complaint form, and received the following response:

April 30, 2007

Re: FTC Ref. No. 10527277

Dear Wendy Hughes:
Thank you for recent correspondence. The Federal Trade Commission acts in the public interest to stop business practices that violate the laws it enforces. Letters from consumers and businesses are very important to the work of the Commission. They are often the first indication of a problem in the marketplace and may provide the initial evidence to begin an investigation. The Commission does not resolve individual complaints. The Commission can, however, act when it sees a pattern of possible violations developing.
The information you have provided will be recorded in our complaint retention system. This computerized system enables us to identify questionable business practices that are generating numerous complaints and may be in violation of the law.
Thank you for providing information that may be used to develop or support Commission enforcement initiatives.

Sincerely yours,

Consumer Response Center

Enclosures:

Miracle Health Claims: Add a Dose of Skepticism (HEA-07)
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/health/hea07.shtm
A thorough and sympathetic review of the interaction of people's susceptibility to fraudulent claims, including the following:

How to Spot False Claims

When evaluating health-related claims, be skeptical. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Here are some signs of a fraudulent claim:

  • Statements that the product is a quick and effective cure-all or diagnostic tool for a wide variety of ailments. For example: "Extremely beneficial in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, infections, prostate problems, ulcers, cancer, heart trouble, hardening of the arteries and more."
  • Statements that suggest the product can treat or cure diseases. For example: "shrinks tumors" or "cures impotency."
  • Promotions that use words like "scientific breakthrough," "miraculous cure," "exclusive product," "secret ingredient" or "ancient remedy." For example: "A revolutionary innovation formulated by using proven principles of natural health-based medical science."
  • Text that uses impressive-sounding terms like these for a weight-loss product: "hunger stimulation point" and "thermogenesis."
  • Undocumented case histories or personal testimonials by consumers or doctors claiming amazing results. For example: "My husband has Alzheimer['s disease]. He began eating a teaspoonful of this product each day. And now in just 22 days he mowed the grass, cleaned out the garage, weeded the flower beds and we take our morning walk again."
  • Limited availability and advance payment requirements. For example: "Hurry. This offer will not last. Send us a check now to reserve your supply."
  • Promises of no-risk "money-back guarantees." For example: "If after 30 days you have not lost at least 4 pounds each week, your uncashed check will be returned to you."

An excellent summary of BS detection techniques.

A similar complaint was submitted to the USPS because sending a phony device through the mail constitutes mail fraud.

We are awaiting further replies from the agencies, and we will continue to be vigilant in these matters.

It is unknown if the radio station still associates itself with Aulterra.

Activism

Wendy Hughes, the leader of this inquiry, has decided that it's time to do the thing Skeptics never want to do – take legal action. Since the FTC has gone after similar products, we have sent a letter to the FTC asking them to consider prosecuting the Aulterra Company. Furthermore, we are asking skeptics to contact their legislators and urge them to look into the matter. Hey, if you're reading this, you're probably a skeptic! Please download this sample letter and consider sending it, or a similar letter to your representatives.

Don't know who your representatives are? Go to http://www.votesmart.org/.

Sources

June 14, 2006 - The Aware Show - Lisa Garr interviews Aulterra founder Kim Dandurand (MP3 Audio)

June 14, 2006 - The Aware Show - Lisa Garr interviews Aulterra founder Kim Dandurand (PDF Transcript)

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