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Medical Justice provides free consultations to doctors facing medico-legal obstacles. We have solutions for doctor-patient conflicts, unwarranted demands for refunds, online defamation (patient review mischief), meritless litigation, and a gazillion other issues. We also provide counsel specific to COVID-19. If you are navigating a medico-legal obstacle, visit our booking page to schedule a free consultation – or use the tool shared below.

"Can Medical Justice solve my problem?" Click here to review recent consultations...

We’ve been protecting doctors from medico-legal threats since 2001. We’ve seen it all. Here’s a sample of typical recent consultation discussions…

  • Former employee stole patient list. Now a competitor…
  • Patient suing doctor in small claims court…
  • Just received board complaint…
  • Allegations of sexual harassment by employee…
  • Patient filed police complaint doctor inappropriately touched her…
  • DEA showed up to my office…
  • Patient “extorting” me. “Pay me or I’ll slam you online.”
  • My carrier wants me to settle. My case is fully defensible…
  • My patient is demanding an unwarranted refund…
  • How do I safely terminate doctor-patient relationship?
  • How to avoid reporting to Data Bank…
  • I want my day in court. But don’t want to risk my nest egg…
  • Hospital wants to fire me…
  • Sham peer review inappropriately limiting privileges…
  • Can I safely use stem cells in my practice?
  • Patient’s results are not what was expected…
  • Just received request for medical records from an attorney…
  • Just received notice of intent to sue…
  • Just received summons for meritless case…
  • Safely responding to negative online reviews…

We challenge you to supply us with a medico-legal obstacle we haven’t seen before. Know you are in good hands. Schedule your consultation below – or click here to visit our booking page.

This week we have a guest post from Kathryn Dean. She is the creator of FakeReviewWatch.com and its eponymous YouTube channel. She’s exposed a large international marketplace for purchasing and posting fake reviews and a domestic marketplace for trading reviews between businesses. One such review trader teaches law and ethics at a major US university. Ms. Dean connects the dots between reviewers who posted reviews about a mortgage company in California, a dog walker in New York, a motel in New Zealand, a restaurant in Florida, AND an SEO company. Oh, and other “reviewers” coincidentally visited the same businesses and posted reviews. Imagine the odds. And physicians are participating. Read on.

Doctors Who Purchase Fake Online Reviews from Bangladesh

Guest Post by Kathryn Dean, Creator of FakeReviewWatch.com

Scrolling through the Google reviews for a prominent mental health treatment center in Washington state, you’ll run across a review by a Jeremy Maria which begins, “I don’t know if I have words enough to truly express my gratitude to each and every member of my team. I don’t know if I have ever felt as accepted and cared for during such an intensely vulnerable state in all my life. I mean that with all of my heart.”

That glowing, heartfelt review could certainly sway anyone afflicted with depression or addiction into considering this clinic as the place to go for help. The trouble is, that review wasn’t written by any Jeremy Maria at all. A Bangladeshi review broker paid another Bangladeshi man 83 cents to post it on Google. The review broker provided the entire text, which was likely written by someone at the clinic.

This is not an isolated occurrence. As a citizen investigator, I have researched online review fraud for three years. The problem is much worse than you might imagine. I have seen literally thousands of businesses faking reviews, and plenty of medical and dental practices are among the guilty parties.

The above case is particularly interesting because the evidence I found is right out in the open in public communications in a Facebook group. It’s all documented in a video titled Bangladeshi Facebook Group Fakes Google and Trustpilot Reviews for U.S. Businesses on my YouTube channel, Fake Review Watch. The Bangladeshi review broker publicly outs his U.S. clients, how much he pays for posting a review, and the text of the reviews he wants posted. The responses from various Bangladeshi participants are also there for all to see, including screenshots of the reviews they posted on Google or Trustpilot in order to get paid. That mental health treatment center wasn’t the only client; there are many others, including other U.S. medical and dental practices.

Keep in mind, too, that this case comprises communications from just one review broker in one Facebook group. There are scores of these Facebook groups out there dedicated to buying, selling, and trading fake reviews. I myself have joined 60. Review sellers and other online marketers, many based in India and Bangladesh, abound in these Facebook groups and sell fake reviews in bulk or form networks of businesses for buying and trading reviews.

While many businesses simply buy reviews, others trade for them, and plenty of medical practices are involved. A Virginia psychologist traded reviews with a Missouri educational supply store. A Michigan eye surgeon traded with a Seattle martial arts studio. A California dermatologist traded with a Wisconsin home inspector. And a California psychiatrist swapped with a Texas credit counseling business, just to name a few. Businesses often write their own reviews and send them to their trading partners via Facebook private message to post. I’m able to piece together cases of faking, though, through snippets of public communications, other publicly available information, and people’s memberships in Facebook review exchange groups. I can also ferret out fraud by looking at review patterns on Google or Yelp. What I’ve found is both infuriating and depressing.

A Torrance, California, hernia surgeon is faking his reviews across multiple platforms. At the same time he sued a woman for posting a negative Yelp review because she claimed the doctor’s botched hernia surgery caused her husband’s death (she says she has an autopsy report that corroborates her accusation). A Manhattan orthopedic surgeon is a prolific faker on Yelp and Google, and likely other sites. A famous Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon apparently needs to fake his Yelp reviews to keep the clients coming. A Miami plastic surgeon who “exposes” other doctors for not being transparent about their qualifications in his online videos is busily faking his own Google reviews. And, in a case that affected me personally, a psychiatric practice that’s faking reviews threatens patients with legal action over negative, real reviews.  In fact, an officer of this particular practice fraudulently passed himself off as a lawyer and forged the signature of a real lawyer to try to force me to remove my review, showing just how far some medical practices will go to manicure their online reputations.  He’s now being prosecuted by the district attorney.  (Follow the links for the evidence in each case). 

Unfortunately, despite all of the evidence I provided, the psychiatric practice is not being prosecuted for faking reviews, and the state medical board appears uninterested as well. Meanwhile, the psychiatric practice retains stellar Yelp and Google ratings bolstered by fraudulent reviews, and patients continue to be duped into using this unscrupulous practice instead of going to more reputable doctors. I was recently contacted by a woman complaining that this same practice had defrauded her of over $3,000 on her credit card.

Millions of people are being deceived by this fraud, and thousands of honest businesses are being cheated out of customers. The only ones profiting are the cheaters and the tech companies who abet them. As I demonstrate in my YouTube videos, Google and Yelp certainly see the extent of the fraud on their platforms, and Facebook ignores the rampant fraud being arranged on its site in groups with names as obvious as “Google+ Review Swap” and “Yelp Review Exchange”. Of course, these and other tech companies have little incentive to clean up the fraud since they are not held liable for it under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

It’s far past time for government action. Federal and state enforcement agencies and attorneys general must start prosecuting businesses who are faking reviews at the expense of consumers and honest businesses. The last significant action was way back in 2013, when the New York Attorney General prosecuted 19 companies involved in review fraud. Perhaps even more importantly, Congress must reform CDA Section 230 to alleviate the unchecked and corrupting influence of big tech, which is eroding business ethics to the point that some small businessmen, including doctors, feel they must cheat to compete.

Government action won’t come without public pressure, however, and it’s time for influential organizations such as the medical and dental professional societies to mobilize support for regulatory enforcement and legislative action to combat fake review fraud.

Kathryn Dean is creator of FakeReviewWatch.com and its eponymous YouTube channel.  She is a member of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online.

Medical Justice notes: [I was recently interviewed by a reporter on the topic of doctors buying fake reviews. Initially I thought the allegation was preposterous. Why would a physician purchase fake reviews from a review broker in Bangladesh? Sure, they may be written in the US. But to have an untrustworthy party participate in sprucing up a website? Made no sense to me. Doctors have thousands of patients in their own practice. There are more reliable – and safer ways – to populate reviews on third party sites from real patients. Why would any doctor take the risk of being outed? Or disciplined by Board of Medicine for false and deceptive advertising?

Then I met Kathryn Dean.

She pointed me to a collection of videos demonstrating compelling proof of this overseas review purchasing and domestic review trading marketplaces.

My recommendation to physicians: Don’t do it. It’s even possible you have hired a marketing firm engaging in this fraud and you are entirely unaware you’re involved, burying yourself in your work.

I do believe at some point there will be a reckoning. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But, it will come.

First, there is bipartisan support to amend or even throw out Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act which provides legal immunity to large technology platforms. Section 230 has a short forward-looking shelf-life. I do not believe sites such as Yelp will escape legal accountability forever. Hold the applause.

Next, state boards of medicine and dentistry all have edicts against false and deceptive advertising. Purchasing fake reviews would qualify for investigation and potential discipline. While Ms. Dean does not believe the licensing boards have an appetite for holding doctors accountable for such mischief, my experience with the boards is the exact opposite. I have seen boards take action many times for charges of false and deceptive advertising. And even if the primary reason for a board investigating a practice is some other offense, the board may use an additional charge of false and deceptive advertising to pile on and bump up the penalties.

How would a state medical board ever find out?

Well, the conventional way. A disgruntled employee, a competitor, or an ex-spouse. Or an unhappy patient. Or an unconventional way. A citizen investigator.

Many actions go unregulated until they eventually are. I spent some time on Ms. Dean’s YouTube channel. It’s mesmerizing. I would not be surprised if 60 Minutes runs a segment on the topic. Most of the time, when 60 Minutes comes for an interview, it’s not a feel-good story for the interviewee.]

Medical Justice provides free consultations to doctors facing medico-legal obstacles. We have solutions for doctor-patient conflicts, unwarranted demands for refunds, online defamation (patient review mischief), meritless litigation, and a gazillion other issues. We also provide counsel specific to COVID-19. If you are navigating a medico-legal obstacle, visit our booking page to schedule a free consultation – or use the tool shared below.

"Can Medical Justice solve my problem?" Click here to review recent consultations...

We’ve been protecting doctors from medico-legal threats since 2001. We’ve seen it all. Here’s a sample of typical recent consultation discussions…

  • Former employee stole patient list. Now a competitor…
  • Patient suing doctor in small claims court…
  • Just received board complaint…
  • Allegations of sexual harassment by employee…
  • Patient filed police complaint doctor inappropriately touched her…
  • DEA showed up to my office…
  • Patient “extorting” me. “Pay me or I’ll slam you online.”
  • My carrier wants me to settle. My case is fully defensible…
  • My patient is demanding an unwarranted refund…
  • How do I safely terminate doctor-patient relationship?
  • How to avoid reporting to Data Bank…
  • I want my day in court. But don’t want to risk my nest egg…
  • Hospital wants to fire me…
  • Sham peer review inappropriately limiting privileges…
  • Can I safely use stem cells in my practice?
  • Patient’s results are not what was expected…
  • Just received request for medical records from an attorney…
  • Just received notice of intent to sue…
  • Just received summons for meritless case…
  • Safely responding to negative online reviews…

We challenge you to supply us with a medico-legal obstacle we haven’t seen before. Know you are in good hands. Schedule your consultation below – or click here to visit our booking page.

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