The 2011 Shonky Awards

CHOICE's awards for the shoddiest services and the shonkiest products.
 
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01 .The 2011 Shonky Awards

shonkys_LEAD_WEB

CHOICE's Shonky Awards name and shame the shonkiest rip-offs and and shoddiest products being sold in Australia.

The winners

The event is now in its 6th year and 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.

Video: The 2011 Shonky Awards

The 2011 Shonky Awards.

CH1111_Shonkys_flood2 Shonky for Calamity after the storm goes to ...

The insurance industry

As the 2011 Queensland, NSW and Victorian floodwaters receded, thousands of homeowners were left high and dry by insurance companies that rejected their claims. In some cases, policyholders failed to read their policies carefully.

In numerous others, insurers made it all but impossible to know whether they were covered for flood or not – or exactly what a “flood” is.

In April 2011, when the claims denials began to roll in, RACQ topped the list, followed by NRMA, CGU, AAMI, Allianz, QBE, and Comminsure, according to Queensland Legal Aid. More...

Shonky for $murfberry $urprise goes to ...

Smurfs' Village (Beeline Interactive, Inc.)

Shonkys_Smurfs_Tablet_WEB Countless parents have been stung for hundreds of dollars playing Smurfs’ Village, a ‘free’ game app for iPad and iPhone, and now the Android platform. The idea of the game is to build up a village, which includes constructing buildings and bridges, growing gardens, and playing mini-games to create things like potions and cookies. The sting lies in the substantial cost of in-app purchases.

True, there’s a disclaimer pointing out "Smurfs' Village is free to play but charges real money for additional in-app content," and additional warnings every time a purchase is offered. Trouble is, kids ignore it and parents are oblivious to it. So when little Johnny first asked for dad’s iTunes password for a ‘free’ app, he thought ‘why not?’ and handed it over. When Johnny runs out of Smurfberries, required for in-game currency, he buys a truckload of them and dad wonders why his iTunes account is suddenly clocking up massive bills for a free game. More...

Shonky for Making snake oil look good goes to ...

SensaSlim (and friends)

CH1111_Shonkys_sensaslim_WEBIt all started the usual miracle weight loss product way: some positive plugs on prime time current affairs TV, a reference to a clinical trial, an endorsement by a white-coated doctor, a jockey suing for too much weight loss and “testimonials” from satisfied customers all ensuring the SensaSlim Solution weight loss spray raced off the shelves.

But some of the more contentious breaches of the therapeutic goods advertising code caught the eye of Dr Ken Harvey, a public health physician and consumer representative for CHOICE. So he lodged a complaint with the regulatory authority, the TGA’s Complaints Resolution Panel (CRP). More...

Shonky for Blinded by bling goes to ...

CH1111_Shonkys_dummies_WEBBlinged-up babies via the Internet

For the baby with everything, there’s a bling dummy encrusted with “genuine Swarovski crystals”.

They’re mostly standard dummies and chains from major brands which have been decorated after-market by small businesses. No doubt many well-meaning friends and relatives bought them for little Taylah or Kaydee, not realising they were veritable minefield of questionable safety - and good taste, but that’s another story. More...

CH1111_Shonkys_peachpants_ES_WEBShonky for Spinning out of control briefs goes to...

Peachy Pink

Infused with green tea, peaches and caffeine, wearing Peachy Pink shapewear eight hours a day for 21 days is claimed to micro-massage the. skin, helping you reduce cellulite and lose inches! Peachy Pink claims to be “the ONLY clinically proven anti cellulite shapewear on the market”.

Clinically proven, eh? Well, now that changes things. It was starting to sound a little too good to be true. So which well-respected, independent laboratory did these tests? Turns out it was “Spincontrol Laboratories” – which naturally sent our Shonky radar into meltdown mode.

We checked the lab’s website, which proudly proclaims: “2 doses of accuracy, 1 dose of creativity and a touch of audacity… Since its creation, our team of researchers works with the intention to offer you more and more creative techniques to prove your marketing claims.” More...

Shonky for Chery with a Shonky on top goes to ...

CH1111_Shonkys_Chery5_WEBThe Chery J1

If you haven’t heard of Chery, it’s a brand of cheap Chinese-made cars that have hit the Australian market in the last 12 months, with its J1 hatchback model one of the first available.

Granted we were never going to expect a lot from a car that costs only $11,990. It looks kind of cute, and seems to go.

The three-star ANCAP crash test rating isn’t too flash, but it could have been a lot worse (Proton Jumbuck, we’re looking at you). The ACCC recall might have rung a few more alarm bells, as well as their initial ban in Victoria due to an absence of compulsory electronic stability control. But none of this is why we’re giving them a Shonky. More...

Shonky for Green hogwash goes to ...

Go4Green EnergySmart

go-for-greenTalk of a carbon tax has seen a flurry of activity among entrepreneurs keen to cash in on community paranoia, whipped up by talkback radio and tabloid media.

Go4Green EnergySmart claims you'll save 10% on energy bills with its plug-in power saving device. And, at a mere $299 a pop, it will pay for itself in six months.

So why wouldn't you buy one? With the government pledging compensation for increased electricity bills, any power savings you make will be money for jam. The trouble is, it doesn't work. More...

Shonky for Quack (or “chirp”) medicine goes to...

Quail Kingdom

CH1111_Shonkys_quail_WEBOne of our readers drew our attention to Quail Kingdom quail eggs, a health food with “huge benefits”. According to its website, quail eggs treat everything from:

  • high cholesterol
  • Abnormal blood pressure
  • Tuberculosis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Chernobyl-style excessive radiation
  • Kidney stones
  • Excess weight
  • Hair loss
  • Wrinkles
  • Male potency issues
  • plus more

Frankly, we were astounded. After years of writing about health and medicine, how on earth did this miracle elixir pass us by? More...


 
 

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Shonky for Calamity after the storm goes to ...

The insurance industry

CH1111_Shonkys_flood2As the 2011 Queensland, NSW and Victorian floodwaters receded, thousands of homeowners were left high and dry by insurance companies that rejected their claims. In some cases, policyholders failed to read their policies carefully.

In numerous others, insurers made it all but impossible to know whether they were covered for flood or not – or exactly what a “flood” is.

In April 2011, when the claims denials began to roll in, RACQ topped the list, followed by NRMA, CGU, AAMI, Allianz, QBE, and Comminsure, according to Queensland Legal Aid.

At least 20 other insurers had also denied claims at that point. Seven months on, about 8660 homeowners have been knocked back, or 15% of claims.

Queensland Legal Aid consumer protection lawyer, Catherine Uhr, told us there’s been plenty of shonky behaviour by insurers.

“Insurance sales people had apparently been making sales without telling people there’s a big hole in their policy. A lot of people thought they had no risk. I’m a lawyer who has been focusing pretty much exclusively on flood insurance since the floods happened, and there are some policies that I read and re-read and still don’t understand what they’re on about.”

One little ray of sunshine was Suncorp Insurance, whose track record for paying claims after the same floods is laudable. Having researched flood risk and raised premiums accordingly, it was well placed to pay out claims. RACV has also been making compassionate payments to hundreds of affected Victorian customers.

To read more on CHOICE's decision to award a Shonky to the insurance industry see, Shonky award for insurance industry based on solid evidence.

Video: Insurance industry

Shonky for Calamity after the storm goes to the insurance industry.

Shonky for $murfberry $urprise goes to ...

Smurfs' Village (Beeline Interactive, Inc.)

Countless parents have been stung for hundreds of dollars playing Smurfs’ Village, a ‘free’ game app for iPad and iPhone, and now the Android platform. The idea of the game is to build up a village, which includes constructing buildings and bridges, growing gardens, and playing mini-games to create things like potions and cookies. The sting lies in the substantial cost of in-app purchases.

True, there’s a disclaimer pointing out "Smurfs' Village is free to play but charges real money for additional in-app content," and additional warnings every time a purchase is offered. Trouble is, kids ignore it and parents are oblivious to it. So when little Johnny first asked for dad’s iTunes password for a ‘free’ app, he thought ‘why not?’ and handed it over. When Johnny runs out of Smurfberries, required for in-game currency, he buys a truckload of them and dad wonders why his iTunes account is suddenly clocking up massive bills for a free game.

Shonkys_Smurfs_Tablet_WEB

Okay, so in many cases the parents are culpable for giving kids the password, but parents often learn to trust their kids with ‘free’ apps – and the distinction between requests for real versus game money later in the game isn’t always clear to the kids who the game is marketed to. Also, your password stays active in iTunes for 15 minutes after you enter it – ample time to clock up a few Smurfberry purchases.

So can you play the game without in-app purchases? It’s not recommended, according to our expert iGamer, 13-year-old Will Kollmorgen. "They give you a small amount of Smurfberries for free to start off. After you use them up and really get into the game, you'll need to pay for Smurfberries to keep adding things and expanding your Smurf world. If you don't pay to add things, it's just not fun anymore.”

Our in-house gamer confirmed that once you get to a certain level, which took him less than half an hour, things really slow down unless you pay real money to speed things up again. At that point, he says, it’s really not worth playing – but if you’re already hooked, which apparently happens quite readily, you’ll pay to play.
We’ve seen bills of over $400 for in-app purchases, and bills of over $1000 have been reported elsewhere.

While we appreciate the developers want to make some money back for a ‘free’ game, it’s an awful lot of money compared with conventional computer or console games, which typically cost $50-100 one-off.

Mmm, Smurfberries – they’re shonkalicious!

Video: Smurf Village

No matter which way you slice it, it's still a lemon.

Shonky for Making snake oil look good goes to ...

SensaSlim (and friends)

It all started the usual miracle weight loss product way: some positive plugs on prime time current affairs TV, a reference to a clinical trial, an endorsement by a white-coated doctor, a jockey suing for too much weight loss and “testimonials” from satisfied customers all ensuring the SensaSlim Solution weight loss spray raced off the shelves.

CH1111_Shonkys_sensaslim_WEBBut some of the more contentious breaches of the therapeutic goods advertising code caught the eye of Dr Ken Harvey, a public health physician and consumer representative for CHOICE. So he lodged a complaint with the regulatory authority, the TGA’s Complaints Resolution Panel (CRP).

Normally the advertiser accepts the inevitable slap on the wrist from the regulator without fuss, ignores the sanctions as much as possible and gets back to business as usual, none the worse for wear. But not this time. SensaSlim decided to sue Ken for defamation.

Due to legislative technicalities, it meant that the CRP couldn’t adjudicate on the matter, because it was involved in legal proceedings. This caused no small amount of glee for Sensaslim, who stated in their internal newsletter, “This defamation action, which could be in the courts for a year or two or even longer, basically gives an iron-clad protection that nobody can raise a complaint against SensaSlim to the CRP and hurt us.”

But the case became news, and contrary to popular belief, not all publicity is good publicity. Once some journalists started sniffing around, all sorts of interesting and embarrassing stuff emerged.

For example, the Intercontinental Research Institute in Geneva that supposedly did the so-called clinical trial featured images of completely oblivious doctors from the US whose pictures were nicked off the internet.

The clinical trial was apparently fabricated. No, really? The jockey suing for too much weight loss really had lost weight - almost a kilogram in half an hour. All thanks to SensaSlim? Er, no.

Then their own, apparently real, white-coated doctor disassociated himself from the company and the product – for which they’re apparently suing him. They also had their advertising approvals cancelled, though they more or less ignored this. Even current affairs TV turned on them, damning the dastardly scammers who were not so long ago weight loss heroes.

In a hearing seeking to freeze the assets of the company, pending ACCC investigations into misleading conduct, it emerged that one of the principals was Peter Foster, who you may remember from previous “ventures” including miracle weight loss tea products, putting money through the washing machine and the Cherie Booth Blair property fiasco. The ACCC has subsequently applied for a 20-year ban on Peter Foster’s corporate involvement, and lesser bans for other SensaSlim principals. With assets frozen, the company was placed into receivership.

Some franchisees, who’ve reportedly paid around $60,000 for distribution rights, got the jitters. They wanted out, and their money back, with class action heroes, Slater and Gordon, coming to their rescue. Meanwhile, an expert witness for the ACCC’s case against SensaSlim reported being threatened in relation to the defamation case.
Ken won his defamation case, and was awarded costs – a pyrrhic victory, because SensaSlim can't afford to pay.

However, thanks to a fund raising drive by the Australian Skeptics, his costs have been covered. You’d think by now SensaSlim would have conceded defeat. But no, one of its directors has filed a claim defamation against Ken in a Queensland court. They’re also launching a new product, called SensaSlim Slimming Spray, “in a pleasant vanilla flavour”. And so the saga of Shonkousity continues.

The TGA, who deserve an honorary Shonky for their role in this, have had ample reason and opportunity to delist the product, ensuring it can no longer be sold in Australia, but have declined to do so. Even after the TGA’s advertising Complaints Resolution Panel recommended its delisting due to non-compliance with regulations, they have sat tight and done nothing.

Video: SensaSlim

Shonky for Making snake oil look good goes to SensaSlim (and friends)

Shonky for Blinded by bling goes to ...

CH1111_Shonkys_dummies_WEBBlinged-up babies via the Internet

For the baby with everything, there’s a bling dummy encrusted with “genuine Swarovski crystals”.

They’re mostly standard dummies and chains from major brands which have been decorated after-market by small businesses. No doubt many well-meaning friends and relatives bought them for little Taylah or Kaydee, not realising they were veritable minefield of questionable safety - and good taste, but that’s another story.

Concerned that the small decorative crystals might detach and become a choking hazard, the ACCC had some tested against the certain clauses of the dummy standard to see if the decorative crystals could come off under reasonable force (compression, bite and impact tests). They did.

These crystals not only constitute a choking hazard but would also be a hazard if eaten.

The ACCC duly banned them, though they’re still available online.

Most of these suppliers have a warning on their sites that the dummies are only novelty and not for actual use as a pacifier. Some companies don't even acknowledge they're dummies - packages we received from overseas described them as 'hair bows' and 'jewellery' on the customs label. Yeah, baby, they’re shonkadelic!

Video: Baby bling

Shonky for Blinded by bling goes to blinged-up babies via the Internet

Shonky for Spinning out of control briefs goes to...

Peachy Pink

Infused with green tea, peaches and caffeine, wearing Peachy Pink shapewear eight hours a day for 21 days is claimed to micro-massage the. skin, helping you reduce cellulite and lose inches! Peachy Pink claims to be “the ONLY clinically proven anti cellulite shapewear on the market”.

CH1111_Shonkys_peachpants_ES_WEBClinically proven, eh? Well, now that changes things. It was starting to sound a little too good to be true. So which well-respected, independent laboratory did these tests? Turns out it was “Spincontrol Laboratories” – which naturally sent our Shonky radar into meltdown mode.

We checked the lab’s website, which proudly proclaims: “2 doses of accuracy, 1 dose of creativity and a touch of audacity… Since its creation, our team of researchers works with the intention to offer you more and more creative techniques to prove your marketing claims.”

Maybe it’s a case of lost in translation, but it seems that whatever you want to claim, they’ll prove it… somehow. Unsurprisingly, the research results haven’t been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

We’re prepared to concede that wearing a large tourniquet will reduce how big you look at the time – hopefully without seriously cutting blood flow or making you look like an exploding sausage. And, thanks to the redistribution of interstitial fluids, you might temporarily look slightly thinner when they come off – think tight-sock syndrome.

Caffeine and green tea are often used in weight loss supplements, and may have a metabolic or diuretic effect, but evidence for weight loss is inconclusive, and there’s none whatsoever for peaches. Assuming (very generously) there’s plenty of caffeine available and maximum possible skin absorption occurs, we calculated you’d get about 70mg per day, or about two cups of green tea, from the shorts. So why not drink the tea? It will be quite a bit cheaper – and a lot more plausible.

Video: Peachy Pink

Shonky for Spinning out of control briefs goes to Peachy Pink

Shonky for Chery with a Shonky on top goes to ...

The Chery J1

CH1111_Shonkys_Chery5_WEBIf you haven’t heard of Chery, it’s a brand of cheap Chinese-made cars that have hit the Australian market in the last 12 months, with its J1 hatchback model one of the first available.

Granted we were never going to expect a lot from a car that costs only $11,990. It looks kind of cute, and seems to go.

The three-star ANCAP crash test rating isn’t too flash, but it could have been a lot worse (Proton Jumbuck, we’re looking at you). The ACCC recall might have rung a few more alarm bells, as well as their initial ban in Victoria due to an absence of compulsory electronic stability control. But none of this is why we’re giving them a Shonky.

It’s because of a little sticker inconspicuously placed on the inside of the roof rails, which warns: “Roof rails are for cosmetic purpose only. Do not use.”

Yes, that's right - decorative roof rails. If you use 'em you lose 'em - as well as what's attached.

Whatever the “cosmetic purpose” for bearing this car equivalent of a toupee, we’re concerned that if the car manages to outlast the sticker and someone buys it secondhand, will they know not to use the rails?

"Why would you pick anything else?" Chery asks in its ads. To which we respond: "Where do we start?"

Video: CheryJ1

Shonky for Chery with a Shonky on top goes to The Chery J1

Shonky for Green hogwash goes to ...

Go4Green EnergySmart

Talk of a carbon tax has seen a flurry of activity among entrepreneurs keen to cash in on community paranoia, whipped up by talkback radio and tabloid media.

go-for-greenGo4Green EnergySmart claims you'll save 10% on energy bills with its plug-in power saving device. And, at a mere $299 a pop, it will pay for itself in six months.

So why wouldn't you buy one? With the government pledging compensation for increased electricity bills, any power savings you make will be money for jam. The trouble is, it doesn't work.

We hooked up a variety of motor-driven devices, such as a vacuum cleaner, a drill, a grinder and a pump. There were negligible savings, and in some cases it cost us marginally more.

We then measured the energy usage of a dryer, washer, air conditioner and a variety of smaller appliances in a house.

We plugged in the device as per the instructions and ran the appliances again on the same programs. Our testing found negligible changes in energy consumption. While we did see some changes in power factor and harmonics, these elements are not taken into account on your electricity bill so won’t save you money.

We had the electronic componentry valued at $15.

Go4Green have since claimed that they are no longer in business, though we were still able to purchase their device online as we headed off to the Shonky ceremony.

Video: Go4Green

Shonky for Green hogwash goes to Go4Green EnergySmart

CH1111_Shonkys_quail_WEB

Shonky for Quack (or “chirp”) medicine goes to...

Quail Kingdom

One of our readers drew our attention to Quail Kingdom quail eggs, a health food with “huge benefits”. According to its website, quail eggs treat everything from:

  • high cholesterol
  • Abnormal blood pressure
  • Tuberculosis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Chernobyl-style excessive radiation
  • Kidney stones
  • Excess weight
  • Hair loss
  • Wrinkles
  • Male potency issues
  • plus more

Frankly, we were astounded. After years of writing about health and medicine, how on earth did this miracle elixir pass us by?

Thinking that the company’s own web site may not perhaps be the most reliable source of medical information and clinical trial outcomes, we checked up Medline. There was not a single clinical trial demonstrating the amazing healing powers of quail eggs – no doubt a conspiracy between medical researchers and Big Pharma, which would probably collapse overnight if any of this were actually true. Nor were they listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, which was surprising, given the high-level therapeutic claims the company makes.

Casting a broader net, we checked the whole internet. There the therapeutic value of quail eggs received a lot more credence – and, as we all know, the internet never lies. They appear to be popular among the alternative medicine set, based on traditional use and beliefs in their powers that go back hundreds of years. According to the Nigerian Tribune, they even cure cancer! As anyone still waiting for their millions of dollars from corrupt Nigerian officials will attest, it might be wise to avoid jumping on this bandwagon.

Video: Quail Kingdom

No matter which way you slice it, it's still a lemon.

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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