KHON KAEN — Stick ‘em in your pants, in a glass of water, or on appliances – this magic card will heal all your ailments and make your electricity bill cheaper.
At least, that’s what the “Energy Cards” ripping people off muu baan to muu baan are claiming. By Friday, police had summoned former police officer Sgt. Maj. Thanat Surin, the owner of the company – named Expert Pro Network – behind the alleged multi-level marketing scheme.
“The cards help relax your muscles through negative ions. It’s not magical. The villagers are the ones dipping them in water and drinking. I didn’t tell them to,” Thanat said on Channel 3’s Hoan Krasae show on Thursday.
Since Monday, news has been spreading of Isaan villagers being tricked into buying “Energy Cards” from distributors, who make money both from selling the cards and recruiting distributors. The card’s overblown claims include improving the immune system, strengthening the heart, energizing one’s metabolism, and purifying water. Soaking the card in a glass of water, then counting to 10 and drinking, apparently multiplies the effects.
But the impossible claims quickly alerted health and police officials. On Thursday, police raided the Expert Pro Network company registered at 335 Nipatsongkrew 4 Road in Hat Yai district, Songkhla and found direct sales company registration documents dated Jan. 31, 2013. A bulletin board summarised the company’s activities recruiting members in several provinces, including Khon Kaen. Police also found one of the Energy Cards, along with brochures boasting the false claims.
Most importantly, police found evidence that Thanat, 46, is the owner of the building and has the business registered under his name. Police have issued summons for Thanat, who has disabled all his phone numbers. The now-shuttered Bangkok branch of Expert Pro Network is located in room C9-C10 on the 4th floor of Imperial Lat Phrao mall.
“I had to close the company so I could come to this interview. Otherwise, how could I be here?” Thanat said, when asked about the shuttered branches.
Thanat recalled that he started distributing the cards when La Genius, a Malaysian company selling the Indonesian cards, went under. He gave the cards as free samples along with supplements he was already selling. On the Hoan Krasae show, Thanat continued to defend the claims behind his cards and said he was ready to cooperate with police.
The former police officer then pulled out an “ion tester” machine to use on a credit card and one of his energy cards. The credit card measured “3” while the Energy Card measured a “8345” on an unknown scale. Chemistry professor Weerachai Phutdhawong, also a guest on the show, brought his own multimeter to use on the card but found that the card did not emit any voltage.
“I want to bring your machine into testing,” Weerachai said to Thanat, referring to the “ion tester.” “We don’t know the origin of that machine. I will need to test further to see whether these cards or the machine contains radioactive elements, which could be very dangerous.”
The Khon Kaen Campaign
Police Maj. Gen. Phromnuttaket Hamkumpai of the Khon Kaen Provincial Police said Thursday that local police in Ubolratana and Khao Suan Kwang districts have been deployed to interview locals, since the cards seem to have been sold there first.
Phromnuttaket said that card sellers held a recent workshop in Khao Suan Kwang to train at least 30 distributors in selling the cards. Police added that to join Expert Pro Network, distributors had to pay 4,400 baht for five cards, and sell them for 1,100 to 1,500 baht each. They would only be paid once they sold the cards or recruited more distributors.
The defining characteristic of MLMs, often compared to pyramid schemes, is that the company profits from continuous recruiting rather than the actual selling of products. “If there is evidence of false advertising to trick consumers, that could the basis of prosecution,” Phromnuttaket said.
Santi Laoboonsangeam, deputy governor of Khon Kaen, advised that all local provincial officials down to the village headman have now been instructed to warn locals about the hoax.
“According to scientific fact, putting a plastic card on your body doesn’t cure you of any sickness, as the card claims. Villagers might say that they’ve been healed, but that is a result of them taking actual medicine while using the card, or an emotional placebo,” said Peera Areerat of the Khon Kaen public health department.
Peera added that the elderly are the primary victims of the cards, which were not registered with the Ministry of health.
Tongsri Wongchaiawet, 66, a local of Baan Saladin village in Ubolratana district, bought a card for 1,100 baht because of aches, pain and ear discharge.
“I went to the hospital but it didn’t help, so I tried putting the Energy Card on my back. Then, discharge stopped coming out of my ear. But at the same time I was taking my medicine from the hospital,” Tongsri said. “My body still aches though. I think the card helped 50 percent.”
Tongsri said she also likes to put a glass of water on the card, pray, and drink it. She bought the card from her neighbor, Twee Pie-in. Twee said that his recruiter put a card on his body at a training seminar, leaving him numb but then refreshed when the card was lifted.
Tongsri’s card contains a url to LivingActiveGenius.com, which leads to a broken link.
Living Active Genius Card?
The Energy Cards feature both the words “Magic Card” and “Health. Fuel. Electricity” in Indonesian, while the words “Germany Technology” and “World Peace Committee 202 Countries. We are all one family of Earth” are printed in English.
Sales of the Indonesian magic card – “Kartu Sakti” – seem to be scattered across little-followed Facebook pages or are sold on shopping sites. One listing sells the cards at IDR234,000, or 508 baht. A quick internet search shows that similar “anti-radiation” cards are being sold in India, claiming to “improve your energy, strength, stamina and resistance power, while enhancing your mental performance and alertness. It acts as a barrier to protect brain and ear tissues from harmful radiation.” The cards also claim to absorb food odors and should even be put on babies, one site asserts.