Like we previously reported, reviews matter. The New York Attorney General (NY AG) announced a $100,000 settlement out of its Bureau of Internet and Technology with a Manhattan-based orthopedic doctor for manipulating patient reviews on multiple websites such as RateMDs.com, ZocDoc, Google, Yelp, Vitals, Adviise, Healthgrades, MD.com, and the Better Business Bureau. The doctor's wife also settled separately but with no monetary penalties.
According to the Assurance of Discontinuance, the doctor and his wife conducted a variety of schemes to both inflate positive reviews and suppress negative ones. Among their most egregious alleged acts:
- Offering to reimburse a patient a $50 copay to remove their negative review.
- Contemplating "destroy[ing] [a patient] on social media" in response to a negative review and also locating the patient's father who was also a physician in the attempt to "see him and write a scathing review."
- Marking patients as no-shows to prevent them from leaving potentially negative reviews.
- Asking friends, family, and employees to leave positive reviews, regardless of whether they were patients.
- Falsely flagging negative reviews as violating the platform's policies prohibiting inappropriate content in an attempt to have them removed.
- Spending at least $4,000 on fake reviews through Upwork and Fiverr.
The settlement outlines ways in which patients were misled by these deceptive reviews noting that "prospective patients would have been able to ascertain some common complaints voiced by patients . . . including poor bedside manner, poor communication, surprise charges, and not listening to patient concerns." As such, the prospective patients were "enticed" to book appointments based on "manipulated online profiles."
The doctor and his practice are required to pay a $100,000 penalty and to take down all fake positive reviews, and use best efforts to notify those with connections asking to remove their reviews. Attorney General Letitia James stressed that these fake reviews were "illegal and unacceptable, particularly for critical services like medical care."
Takeaways: As we continue to report, state AGs are not slowing down, and are at the front of the fight against fake reviews. But whether it is through a multistate, the FTC, or even a consumer watchdog (like Fake Review Watch which assisted NY AG on this investigation), all eyes are on using any kind of manipulation tactic on reviews.
Stay tuned for our next state AG webinar where we will interview representatives of the National Association of the Attorneys General (NAAG) and the Attorney General Alliance (AGA).
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