Magic for Mosquitoes

While we were in Fiji recently there was a dengue fever alert. This unpleasant virus is carried by mosquitoes and naturally we were careful to use insect repellent.

We stayed in a Suva hotel; in the swimming pool area there was a large sign stating that guests should not worry about infections carried by insects because the pool area was protected by a MAGNETIC MOSQUITO DEFFENDER.

I searched diligently but could find no evidence of magnets, either electrical or solid state. However we decided that an invisible MAGNETIC MOSQUITO DEFFENDER would probably work as well as one that could be seen.

Some years ago I wrote in this journal that it was safe to drink tap water in Fiji. This is no longer the case, particularly in Suva.

Not clairvoyant enough?

Psychic scammer Maria Duval failed to foresee trouble over ‘her’ misleading advertisements. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is funded by the advertising and media industries, and has the stated purpose of ensuring that advertising is socially responsible and truthful. The ASA administers the Advertising Standards Complaints Board, which is the body that hears complaints about ads, and the Advertising Standards Complaints Appeal Board.

Self-styled clairvoyant Maria Duval’s magic seems to have deserted her. Her company has pulled all its New Zealand advertising, following a complaint the Consumers’ Institute of New Zealand made to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board (ASCB).

Who or what is Maria Duval?

Maria Duval is the frontname for a scam operating all over Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. It is listed as a scam on the Ministry of Consumer Affairs Scamwatch website and the Consumers’ Institute A-Z directory of scams.

We also published a news item on Maria Duval in February 2005, questioning why banks and credit card companies continue to profit from this scam.

The Ontario police, US Postal service, agencies in five Australian states, the New York Better Business Bureau and consumer agencies in Europe have all investigated or warned against the Maria Duval scam. We complained to the ASCB after Sunday News and the Timaru Herald published large advertisements promoting Maria Duval.

The ads promised to fulfil seven wishes for no charge – “Nothing to pay, everything is FREE!” it claimed. Among other things, you could expect to “win the lottery jackpot within a fortnight”, successfully bet on the horses, and “solve [your] financial problems once and for all”.

The underlying reason behind the ads was to build a list of potential victims, who would then be hounded to pay for dubious psychic services.

We have heard from several New Zealanders who have paid large sums to the Maria Duval scam, including some who have gone into debt.

The ASCB’s decision

The ASCB upheld our complaint. It stated that the “Complaints Board was unanimously of the view that the advertisement would create unrealistic expectations of life-changing benefits”, and therefore “there was no doubt it would be likely to mislead and abuse the trust of the consumer.”

Following our complaint, Swiss ad agency Infogest suspended all Maria Duval print ads in New Zealand.

Martin Craig is an investigative writer at the Consumers’ Institute of New Zealand.

How to complain to the ASA

  • Don’t complain very often. Every TV ad for alcohol generates a complaint from Kate Sheppard types who are opposed to the product rather than the ad. To the ASA’s credit, every one of these complaints is considered before rejection.
  • Be specific. The ASA has set criteria for complaints. Some of the complaints it gets are very vague – eg, two males kissing (in a safe sex ad) is disgusting and shouldn’t be allowed. Read the criteria, say which criteria you think the ad breaches, and say why it breaches them.
  • Be realistic. The ASA has no legal powers. It is a self-regulation tool used by the advertising industry. In fact, to have your complaint accepted you must waive your right to use legal channels. The ASA can have a specific ad pulled but it cannot order fines or damages. It can’t order retractions or apologies either.
  • The advertiser gets a right to respond. One of the reasons we made this complaint was to discover who the Maria Duval advertiser is. Even if the complaint had been rejected, this information would have been useful.

The ASCB Maria Duval decision

On 14 June 2005 the Advertising Standards Complaints Board met to consider Complaint 05/116, filed by Martin Craig for the Consumers’ Institute, concerning the Maria Duval psychic services advertisements. This is an abridged version of their deliberations.

Complaint: The newspaper advertisements carried the following headline and offers:

“Maria Duval, the very celebrated clairvoyant, Makes you this strange offer:

See the 33 Wishes below, and choose those you’d Most like to see coming true in your life NOW!

“I’ll try to realize them FOR YOU FREE!”

Maria Duval.

Choose your 7 wishes NOW!

… 1. Win the lottery jackpot within a fortnight.

… 3. Win on the horses.

… 12. Do a round-the-world tour.

… 32. Solve my financial problems once and for all.

… 33. Be able to stop working with a substantial monthly income.

Nothing to pay, everything is FREE!

Receive also a free prediction

… offering you free a special personal prediction….”

It also contained the wording: “FREE FOR YOU” and “FREE OF CHARGE”

The Complainant, Consumer’s Institute, said:

“I am writing to complain about print advertising for Maria Duval, a known scam which is listed on the government’s Scamwatch website.

“While the ads in question did not require consumers to send money, Consumers’ Institute members report that requests for money quickly follow any response to this ad.

“The ads breach the Advertising Code of Ethics Rule 2 – Truthful presentation because they are likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, make false and misleading representation, abuse the trust of the consumer and exploit his/her experience and lack of knowledge.

“The ads breach the Advertising Code of Ethics Rule 6 – Fear, because they exploit the superstitious.

“The ads breach Rule 2 by stating ‘Nothing to pay, everything is free’; ‘I fully understand that I’ll never be asked for any money in return for your help with fulfilling my 7 secret wishes, either now or later’; and ‘Maria Duval…is going to undertake for you a ritual known by her alone, which will allow your secret wishes to come true in your life’.

“The ads breach Rule 6 by offering ‘more luck’; offering to perform ‘this very special ritual’ for the consumer; referring to ‘the astonishing powers of Maria Duval’; referring to ‘Miracles’; and offering to ‘allow your Secret Wishes to come true’.

“The Maria Duval scam is well-known and international. The purpose of the ads is to gather names and contact details from potential victims. Consumers will be contacted repeatedly and asked to pay money.

“We have heard from several New Zealanders who have paid large sums to the Maria Duval scam, including some who have gone into debt to do so. I also believe that publications act unethically by accepting advertisements for any product or service listed by Scamwatch. Publishers have no excuse for failing to monitor the site. Any publisher who accepts ad revenue from a scammer is profiting from the scam and is failing in their ethical responsibility to their readers.”

The chairman ruled that the following provisions were relevant:

Basic Principle 1: All advertisements must comply with the laws of New Zealand.

2. Truthful Presentation – Advertisements should not contain any statement or visual presentation or create an overall impression which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive, is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, makes false and misleading representation, abuses the trust of the consumer or exploits his/her lack of experience or knowledge.

6. Fear – Advertisements should not exploit the superstitious, nor without justifiable reason, play on fear.

Counsel on behalf of the Advertiser said:

“Our clients instruct that, as far as they are aware, the advertisements in question are not in contravention of any laws of New Zealand. Our clients instruct that the advertisements are not misleading or deceptive, or are likely to mislead or deceive the public.

“Our clients note that Ms Duval’s services have been listed on the New Zealand Ministry of Consumer Affairs’ Scamwatch website as an astrology/psychic scam. Scamwatch defines astrology scams as promotions that ‘advise that you could come into a fortune if only you send funds to mail boxes for talismans, golden eggs or fortune telling guides to personal wealth’.

“Our clients instruct that Ms Duval’s services do not fall under this category. Ms Duval’s life mission is to help others, either in predicting the future or to fulfil their wishes in life. She is a real-life person who has a history of 25 years of accurate and verifiable predictions behind her. She regularly works with doctors and the police, and has been consulted by prominent people. She has made about 2400 television appearances, and has been a guest on radio programmes on more than 8400 occasions. She has also appeared in more than 700 press articles, and we enclose a montage of press clippings for your information and reference. As such, our clients are aggrieved that Ms Duval has been listed on Scam-watch, as Ms Duval does not deceive, exploit or mislead the public.

“With respect to the article that was published in the March 2005 edition of Consumer, our clients instruct that as far as they are aware, Ms Duval has never been investigated by the Ontario police, US Postal Service, the New York Better Business Bureau, or in Europe.

“Our clients deny that the advertisements in question are likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, make false and misleading representations, abuse the trust of the consumer and exploit his/her experience and lack of knowledge.

“Our clients also deny that the purpose of the advertisements is to gather names and contact details or to repeatedly request for money following the response to the advertisements. Our clients instruct that Ms Duval provides a bona fide service and does not exploit the consumer. If any payment is asked for in respect of readings or predictions by Ms Duval, our clients instruct that full refunds are given to customers who are not completely satisfied with her services. As such, our clients instruct that customers would not be prejudiced financially if they are not satisfied with Ms Duval’s services.

“Our clients deny that the advertisements in question are in breach of Rule 6. Even if the advertisements are targeted at those who believe in astrology, psychic or clairvoyant powers, our clients instruct that Ms Duval does not exploit these customers who hold such beliefs, and does not play on their fears. She offers a service to help people realise their dreams and to give them hope.

“Whilst our clients deny the allegations raised in your letter, they have decided to suspend all Maria Duval print advertisements in New Zealand until all issues relating to this complaint have been resolved. Our clients intend to seek assistance from legal counsel in New Zealand to assist them in developing print advertisements that will comply with the Advertising Codes of Practice in New Zealand.”

The Timaru Herald, Fairfax Sunday Newspapers and ACP Media Ltd made statements on behalf of the media in which they agreed to abide by the board’s decision, and/or not to run Maria Duval advertisements in the future.


The Complaints Board noted the Complainant, Consumers’ Institute was of the view that the advertisements abused the trust of the consumer by offering services they could not reasonably deliver, and as such it was misleading.

As a preliminary matter, the chairman clarified for the Complaints Board that it would not deliberate on Basic Principle 1 (All advertisements must comply with the laws of New Zealand), as the complaint did not refer to any specific law which the advertisement may or may not have breached.

Accordingly, the task before the Complaints Board was to determine whether the Maria Duval advertisement would be “likely to deceive or mislead the consumer” as stated in Rule 2 and/or whether it exploited the superstitious, thereby breaching Rule 6.

The Complaints Board advised that it was obliged to confine its consideration to the content of the actual advertisement rather than considering the subsequent interaction between the advertiser and the consumer as alleged by the Complainant. However, it did note that the advertiser had been listed on the Ministry of Consumer Affairs Scamwatch website, and this in its view indicated that the advertisement had been found to be misleading by that organisation. The Complaints Board was unanimously of the view that the advertisement would create unrealistic expectations of life changing benefits, and thereby it effected a serious breach of Rule 2 of the Code, as there was no doubt that it would be likely to mislead and abuse the trust of the consumer.

The Complaints Board was not required to make a ruling under Rule 6 of the Code, as the issues contained therein had been subsumed by Rule 2.

It noted that all Maria Duval advertisements had been suspended from publication in New Zealand by the advertiser and that legal counsel would be sought in the preparation of new advertisements to ensure they complied with the Advertising Codes of Practice. It also noted the responsible attitude taken by the media concerned with regard to future advertisements for Maria Duval, and that the Scam-watch website, having been brought to their attention, would be checked before publication of such advertisements in the future.

The Complaints Board ruled to uphold the complaint.

Hokum Locum

Another Alternative to Evidence Based Medicine

Vehemence based medicine: The substitution of volume for evidence is an effective technique for brow-beating your more timorous colleagues and for convincing relatives of your ability. New Zealand Medical Journal Vol 113 No 1122 p479


This pseudoscience is now being advertised on television. In the same way that acupuncture can be easily learned during a one-hour lecture, anyone can learn how to make the spine go “click”. Many lay people have discovered this for themselves. Four or more years of training are unnecessary when a modality has no scientific basis. You only need to learn how to produce a pleasing noise from the spine without harming the patient. Osteopaths extend this effect to include the joints. If you pull firmly on your fingers you get the same effect, often a dramatic crack. Various theories have been proposed for this such as air bubbles, but I have noticed that large joints frequently produce all sorts of noises when they are being examined. When the neck is forcibly manipulated in this way there is a real risk of serious injury to major arteries in the neck. The shearing forces cause a tear in the arterial wall (a “dissection”) and this interruption to the blood supply to the brain can cause a stroke. If you have a sore neck and simply wait for it to get better you are not exposed to this risk. I used to do a lot of spinal manipulation but gave it up because patients started coming back all the time to have their spine “put back in”. I had unwittingly stumbled upon the secret of chiropractic! This became very tiresome and I stopped the practice after giving myself a nasty fright when a patient fainted and I thought I had killed her. Chiropractors talk about “adjustments” and this is the source of their income – adjustments to their bank accounts. Once the patient is convinced of the need for frequent adjustments, the chiropractor has a regular patient for life. For a detailed view of the pseudoscience of chiropractic visit

For a review of serious adverse effects of chiropractic refer Ernst E. Medical Journal of Australia 2002; 176: 376-380

Good Health

I have forwarded a copy of this publication to the editor. It is an advertising supplement for alternative medicine. Good Health employs a resident naturopath, Lani Lopez, complete with a Kentucky fried medicine qualification – N.D. Dip J. Herb. We learn that Mandy Smith owes everything to a diet rich in pond scum (spirulina aka blue/green algae). Auckland-based readers will be delighted to know that NZQA loans and allowances are available if they wish to obtain such qualifications from Wellpark College of Natural Therapies. Refer, although their website was down when I visited. I was particularly taken with an article on joints with metaphors such as “creaking hinges and rusty joints.” My left knee has osteoarthritis and I learned that “essential oils, Clove, Frankincense, and Cajuput oil penetrate deeply into swollen areas and support normal joint articulation.” The only problem with that claim is that human skin is actually impervious to such treatments as it is a very effective barrier. However, I had a biomechanical brainwave. Why not insert grease nipples over troublesome joints and use a modified grease gun to pump the “two main natural ingredients Glucosamine and Chondroitin” directly into the joint? The next time I take the car for an oil change and grease I’ll have my knee done as well, and if that fails there’s always…

Doctor Levine’s Patented Power Knee Strap

There must be plenty of money in this product as it has recently featured in several half-page advertisements. It is claimed the strap provides relief from arthritis and chronic knee pain. The strap costs $24.95 and is designed to sit just beneath the kneecap. Dr Levine is described as a “nationally famous physician and former head of orthopaedic surgery at one of New York’s leading hospitals.” I decided to check these claims and the website of the American Medical Association ( had a search engine by doctor’s name. This confirmed the existence of Dr Jack Levine. The website also had a statement of the ethical standards for the AMA members and it appears that this advertising is a breach of Article 2. I emailed the AMA pointing this out and will report back, assuming they bother to reply. The strap is obviously a placebo. It might work if it was tightly placed around the upper thigh where it could cut off the circulation, compress the nerves and produce a pleasing numbness – a sensation that frequently comes over me when I am confronted with American consumerism.

Slimming the easy way

A 44-year-old woman was referred to hospital with anxiety symptoms, weight loss and hypertension after taking a Chinese herbal remedy for weight loss. Her doctor was obviously suspicious about the composition of this preparation because it had actually worked. These preparations are normally useless. The initial suspicion was that the herbal remedy contained ephedrine (“Ma Huang”), which is a dangerous but commonly used preparation. Gas chromatography revealed, however, that the herbal preparation was adulterated with fenfluramine, a potent and dangerous amphetamine derivative. One can only agree with the author of the report: “stringent regulation of traditional medicines, at least to the standards of conventional practice, is urgently needed”. British Medical Journal Vol 324 16 March 2002 p679

Recovered Memory

This contemptible pseudo-science is still blighting lives all around the world despite being condemned by most authoritative Psychiatric Colleges. Psychologists at the University of Otago have found that children can only explain early childhood events using the language they knew at the time. The researchers are quoted: “If you take our data to their logical conclusion, then one implication would be that we need to express scepticism about very early verbal memories that are recovered during the course of therapy”.

The merciless badgering of self-deluded therapists is a process very similar to “facilitated communication”. This is where the “facilitator” guides a handicapped person’s fingers on a keyboard to produce written communication, which the person is incapable of when unaided. This is of course a complete delusion and we have experimental psychologists to thank for exposing this nonsense which should not be either encouraged nor funded by ACC.

Article Published in US Psychological Science-reported in Sunday Star Times 28 Jul 2002