The 2010 Shonky Awards

Once again, we name and shame the shonkiest rip-offs and scams.
 
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01 .The shonkiest products

With the Shonkys now in its fifth year, the contenders for the gongs continue to roll in. While you’d think most companies would be doing their best to keep their heads low and travel the well-worn path of the straight and narrow, it sometimes seems they’re begging for a lemon gong.

The number of companies charging customers for the privilege of paying – when you’re charged for using a credit card, yet no other form of payment is accepted  – seems to be growing. And those mobile phone companies offering ‘capped’ plans where you pay more than the cap have also flown under the Shonky radar (just) – ditto those $50 printers that can cost thousands of dollars to run over a couple of years. So, as they say in the media circus, on with the show!

Read CEO Nick Stace's blog about today's event.

Video: Shonkys 2010 – Award Show Highlights

Highlights from this year's Shonky Awards, where we highlight some of the worst offenders for 2010.



Shonky fornurofen pain in the hip pocket...

Nurofen

Got a headache? Backache? Neck ache? A trip to your pharmacy or supermarket reveals there are specific painkillers for all sorts of pains: back pain, tension headache pain, migraine pain, period pain, osteoarthritis pain, neck pain, little toe pain … Panadol has a few pain-specific products, but Nurofen has more, with a range of caplets for migraine, back, tension headache and period pain. Yet a closer look at the ingredients shows they’re identical from product to product.

So does the back pain version somehow magically go straight to your back – and only your back – as soon as you’ve swallowed it? Could you, say, choose to treat only your back pain while keeping your headache? If you want to treat both, do you need to take a dose of each? The answers are no, no and definitely no. When you take these painkillers, the active ingredient spreads through your whole body, attacking whatever pain it comes across, wherever it is. Filling up your medicine cabinet with different painkillers for every type of pain is unnecessary, not to mention wasteful, should they expire before you’ve used them all. But the shonkiest aspect of this type of marketing is that the fast-acting painkillers labelled for specific pain types are more expensive – costing almost twice as much in some stores we surveyed – than their “all-pain” fast-acting equivalent, Zavance caplets, which contains a comparable fast-acting form of ibuprofen. Our advice? Stick with Zavance – and see your doctor if pain persists. See the video.

 

Shonky forrope hanging by a thread...

Medalist

With rock climbing all the rage these days, these colourful braided ropes look very much like proper climbing ropes to many people. However, if one reader’s experience is anything to go by, they’re anything but.

Leo Riters’ nephew bought such a rope to hang from his oak tree for his young sons to climb on. One day it simply snapped, dropping a surprised child a couple of metres. It turns out the braided exterior hides the tissue-like filaments of the interior, which couldn’t really be expected to carry much weight.

There are several brands of this sort of rope, but we’ve given the Shonky to Medalist because it specifically recommends “outdoor recreational use” on its packaging – and what could be more recreational than monkeying around in an old oak tree? See the video.

 

Shonky forolive_oill being only a little bit virgin...

(Some) olive oil Brands

CHOICE tested 28 brands of extra virgin olive oil this year and found half were not as ... well, virgin, as they should be. The majority of the least chaste came from Italy and Spain, and even supposing they’d left their respective countries with their virtue intact, their cherries had been well and truly popped before they made it into our shopping trolley.

Some manufacturers vigorously defended the goodness of their progeny, presenting all manner of documentation to prove their integrity and ultimately blaming poor storage for the corruption uncovered. But the fact remains that consumers aren’t always getting true extra virgin quality at the point of sale, despite paying a premium.

A voluntary standard is currently being drafted, and while this is a step in the right direction, CHOICE wants “extra virgin” to be regulated under the Food Standards Code, with mandatory requirements that all olive oils labelled “extra virgin” meet basic purity and quality standards for the duration of their expected shelf life, as well as carry a suitable date so that consumers are able to choose the freshest oils.

Unless or until that happens, though, a consumer’s best bet for finding a true virgin is to go for the home-grown oils.

 

Shonky forwrist_band stronger, bendier, dumber...

Power Balance

With some reluctance, we highlight the inherent shonkiness of the Power Balance bracelet – reluctance, because when Australian Skeptics demonstrated on Today Tonight that it patently didn’t do anything, subsequent sales skyrocketed: apparently any publicity is good publicity after all.

The Power Balance band is basically a rubber band bracelet with a plastic hologram in it. Sorry – a “surgical grade silicone wristband” embedded with a hologram “based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram is designed to respond to the natural energy field of the body. The Mylar material at the core has been treated with energy waves at specific frequencies…” etc, etc. All this, and backed by a money-back guarantee.

But seriously: “surgical”, “specific frequencies”, “Mylar”, “Eastern philosophies”… What’s not to believe?

We CHOICE sceptics did our own testing under controlled laboratory conditions – after all, you can’t believe everything you see on TV – and verified the Skeptics’ findings. The money-back guarantee, however, did work. The only power this bracelet seems to have, placebo effect notwithstanding, is in tipping its distributor’s bank balance well and truly into the black – they’re reportedly raking it in. So, if a fool and his money are soon parted, there are apparently plenty of fools out there – and they’re all conveniently identified with a rubber band bracelet. If you see one, offer to sell them a bridge.

This just in: the ACCC exposes Power Balance as fake.  

 
 

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Shonky for ten-buck blow-out goes to...

Coles

When we were culling our list of nominees down to a manageable eight, the clouds of conundrum hovered over Coles: so many potential Shonky awards, but which one to give?

Its FlyBuys program was a strong contender: using the average weekly grocery spend of $155, we calculated it would take close to seven years to earn a Sydney-Melbourne return flight – not that it matters, because your points expire after three years. Lots of buy, not much fly.

We considered a spoil-sportsmanship Shonky for refusing to join the online grocery prices party. As a shaky compromise emerging from the aftermath of the Grocery Choice implosion of 2009, it was proposed that supermarkets at least publish their own prices online so consumers can shop for the best price. Woolworths has recently agreed to publish product prices online, and Aldi always has, but Coles won't play ball.

However, we decided to give the Shonky for its loaves-and-fishes $10 meals, where you can supposedly make some Curtis Stone MasterCreation to feed four people for less than $10 – provided, it turns out, if you happen to have some of the stuff in your pantry already and you manage to convince Coles to let you buy two cloves of garlic or one bay leaf. We calculated Curtis’ $7.76 Coq au vin would cost $37.74 if you bought all the necessary ingredients – including the integral half-litre of vin, which somehow wasn’t included in the $7.76 (though you’d perhaps hope not for that price). And it wasn't just that recipe - the $9.99 Chicken Tikka Masala set us back $39.74.

 

 

Shonky forfridge1 history repeats...

LG

Our test of fridges earlier this year turned up a rather unexpected surprise – and not just the leftover curry hiding at the back of the top shelf. We found the energy use for one of the LG models (the side-by-side GC-L197NFS) was way higher than their star label stated.

This isn’t unprecedented for LG – in 2004 they made 4A-rated water efficiency claims for numerous washing machines before they were certified, while in 2006 they gave court-enforceable undertakings to offer consumers rebates to cover the extra energy costs that five of its air conditioners would use based on overstated efficiency on the energy labels.

In the case of the fridge, the star-rating label is based on energy consumption while the fridge is in energy-saving mode, which is activated under conditions which include those used for energy testing.

While saving energy if you are away on holiday, it also causes large temperature fluctuations in the freezer, which can be detrimental to the quality of your food. Under everyday use, it's energy consumption is increased. LG has since given undertakings to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to compensate people who’ve bought that fridge for the higher-than-expected electricity costs they’ll be paying.  

 

Shonky forbaby_register copy a scam by any other name...

Babynamemeans.com

When a school student was researching the origins of Catholic names for an assignment, she thought she’d struck gold when she came across the website babynamemeans.com, and registered to access the site. In fact, it was the website that had struck gold – or at least a fair few gold-coloured coins.

In what’s becoming an increasingly common internet rip-off, buried in more than one page of dense fine print constituting terms and conditions was the not-insignificant observation that the website was in fact a subscription-based service, costing $12 per month for a minimum of one year – and by registering, she’d agreed to pay this. She was duly invoiced for $144 by the Indonesian company’s Australian “payment agents” – aka its debt collection agency.

While technically, the student perhaps should have read the whole 1500-word terms and conditions document thoroughly, the ACCC takes a fairly dim view of this needle-in-a-haystack presentation of important information that no-one’s likely to read. Warnings that costs will be charged should be clearly displayed and accessible, or the company risks running foul of Australia’s new unfair contracts legislation.

To its credit, the company agreed not to pursue the charges, but not before causing a fair bit of angst for the student and her family. See the video.

 

Shonky forcredit_card1 low-flying jets...

Commonwealth Bank Awards program

We looked into the world of travel rewards credit cards to find out what rewards you can earn for a range of spending levels. While all the Commonwealth cards linked to the Qantas Frequent Flyer (QFF) program suffered serious rewards jetlag, it was the standard Awards card that stood out for poor performance.

Spending $12,000 per annum on this card will provide a paltry $20 in flights rewards, assuming you can spend on Amex (the value drops even further for Visa/MasterCard users). Even big spenders racking up $5,000 per month (the highest amount surveyed) can only earn an annual maximum of $240 flights rewards, and returns are even lower if you choose voucher rewards instead.

Where further shonkiness creeps in (yes, it gets worse) is how the points are calculated. You could be forgiven for assuming that one Awards point would equal one QFF point – after all, even the terms and conditions do not say otherwise. However, in reality you only earn QFF points at half the rate. It’s confusing to work out and means you need to spend double to earn the rewards you want. In fact, you need to spend at least $34,000 just for a Sydney-Brisbane return flight.

The bottom line? If you count on these cards for Frequent Flyer points, you won’t be flying very frequently at all.

Sick of being misled, having a product misrepresented to you or getting a raw deal? Nominate a shonky product or business today. thumbsDown_WEB
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