Legal Marketing

Washington AG Shuts Down Fake Reviews.

fake reviews

In the digital age, online reviews are often taken at face value. Unfortunately, many of these reviews may be false or misleading. In response to this problem, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has taken action against companies that engage in fraudulent online reviews. He seeks to protect consumers from being misled by false information posted online.

On December 29, 2022, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Seattle-area plastic surgery provider Allure Esthetic and its owner for falsely inflating Allure’s online ratings in violation of HIPAA, the Washington State Consumer Protection Act, and the Consumer Review Fairness Act. Specifically, AG Ferguson claimed that Allure and its owner:

  • Before obtaining treatment, 10,000+ patients had to sign illegal non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), which prohibited them from publishing unfavorable evaluations (anything below four stars).
  • Patients who refused to remove unfavorable ratings were threatened with legal action/monetary damages.
  • Offered cash and free services or items as incentives to erase unfavorable reviews while also “bribing” patients to sign a second NDA that threatened them with a $250,000 lawsuit if they continued to publish negative reviews.
  • They changed “before and after” photographs to improve operation outcomes.
  • Without the patient’s consent,  they applied for and received patient rebates.

In his complaint, AG Ferguson requested the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington to:

  • All signed NDAs should be void, and Allure should notify its patients of their invalidity.
  • Prevent Allure from enforcing or threatening to enforce its NDAs.
  • Mandate fines of up to $7,500 per infraction; and
  • Require Allure to pay patient reparations, including the $100 pre-service consultation fee and any patient-owed cash rebates that Allure pocketed without the patients’ knowledge.

Why Is This Important?

AG Ferguson’s press release states that “individuals rely on online reviews to help them locate a doctor. According to a 2020 survey, more than 70% of patients utilize online reviews as their first step in seeking a new doctor. As a result, patients require reliable information about their providers to make informed decisions regarding their medical care.

What This Means For Online Reviews

In conclusion, false online reviews can have a significant and lasting impact on consumer trust and business success. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is taking action to protect consumers from deceptive marketing practices by targeting false online reviews. Businesses should ensure they accurately represent their products and services, while consumers should remain diligent in researching reviews before making a purchase decision. By working together, we can help build an online marketplace that is both ethical and trustworthy.

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