May 27, 2010— -- Starlet Lindsay Lohan isn't exactly what you'd call the rules-following type. So it's little surprise that just days after a judge ordered her to wear an alcohol-monitoring anklet, reports say she's already attempted to beat the bracelet.
According to a source quoted by Us Weekly magazine, the actress, who previously wore the bracelet in 2007, tried using a paper clip to jam the signal and perfume (which is high in alcohol content) to confuse the sensor.
The magazine said Lohan denied attempting both tactics. But is it possible that she could find a way to bypass the bracelet's sensors?
"Nothing is foolproof," said Kathleen Brown, spokeswoman for the Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc., which makes the SCRAM (or Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring) ankle bracelet. "Men even escape from Alcatraz."
But she said that of the 135,000 people who have worn the bracelet since 2004, she's never heard of someone effectively tampering with the device and evading detection.
Brown said that fiddling with the bracelet would be a violation of the agreement someone signs when the SCRAM is attached to their ankle.
"It's just like tampering with a urine sample [for a drug test]," she said. "It's the same philosophy with the court."
Similar to a Breathalyzer, the bracelet detects alcohol, but instead of checking a person's breath, it takes samples from perspiration on the skin.
It tests the skin every half an hour and, if alcohol is present, a chemical reaction will take place in the device's fuel cell.
At least once a day, the offender must be close enough to the base station -- a wireless modem -- so that the collected data can be transmitted across phone lines to a site accessible to probation officers.
Brown said the SCRAM can detect almost any level of alcohol consumption, but the system will only alert authorities for blood-alcohol levels of 0.02 or higher.
Temperature Gauges, Infrared Beams Sense Tampering
Vickers Cunningham, retired Texas District Court Judge and chief operating officer of Recovery Healthcare Corporation, a major SCRAM distributor, said the device features several anti-tamper sensors.
It monitors temperature to make sure the bracelet stays attached to a human leg, it sounds an alarm if the strap is cut or stretched to the breaking point and has an infrared beam that measures the amount of light reflected by the skin.
But he said that some offenders have attempted particularly innovative strategies to bluff the booze detector.
Novices place cellophane or foil between the skin and the sensor, but Cunningham said that trips the infrared alarm as they both reflect differently than skin.
"The more creative people have tried to simulate human skin by using baloney or salami or ham," he said. One even stuck chicken skin to his ankle.
But he said those tactics are ineffective because the bracelet can detect an obstruction and will alert authorities after eight hours of an obstruction.
One would-be SCRAM scammer thought he could prevent himself from perspiring alcohol by placing a bag of ice on his ankle. Another tried frying the bracelet altogether.
But Cunningham said both quickly got calls from their probation officers. The first for transmitting a body temperature of about 40 degrees and the second for not transmitting any data at all.
He said tactics like Lohan's alleged perfume-spraying strategy are known as attempts at "spiking the bracelet."
Offenders are told not to use perfume and other topical alcohol-based products around their ankles because it sends the reported alcohol level through the roof and masks any alcoholic beverages the person might have consumed.
But Cunningham said probation officers can tell when offenders spike the bracelets with gasoline, perfume and other substances and can send them before a judge to explain why they contaminated the sample.
Offenders Struggle to Stay Compliant With Alcohol-Monitoring System
Regardless of how people attempt to trick the system, Alcohol Monitoring Systems' Brown said it just shows how challenging it is to overcome alcohol problems.
"The bottom line, I think, is that it illustrates how difficult it is to be on SCRAM," she said. "If you're going to the trouble of putting raw chicken skin on your skin, you have a problem."
"There are millions of people who are dealing with a lot of these issues and it's really pretty serious stuff," she said.