New York's Attorney General accused a cosmetic surgery company of trying to dupe consumers.
The company, Lifestyle Lift, will pay $300,000 in penalties for posting fake consumer reviews on the internet, said Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
This case is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, he said.
Lifestyle Lift instructed its employees to pose as satisfied customers on the web, said Cuomo.
One company email told an employee to quote "put your wig and skirt on and tell them about the great experience you had," said Cuomo.
Lifestyle Lift has locations nationwide, including three in New York state, according to the Attorney General's Office.
The State Attorney's Office issued this release:
ATTORNEY GENERAL CUOMO SECURES SETTLEMENT WITH PLASTIC SURGERY FRANCHISE THAT FLOODED INTERNET WITH FALSE POSITIVE REVIEWS
Cuomo’s deal is first case in nation against growing practice of “astroturfing” on Internet ~ ‘Lifestyle Lift’ Will Pay $300,000 in Penalties and Costs to New York State
NEW YORK, N.Y. (July 14, 2009) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a settlement with cosmetic surgery outfit Lifestyle Lift over the publishing of fake consumer reviews on the Internet.
Under the settlement, Lifestyle Lift will stop publishing anonymous positive reviews about the company to Internet message boards and other Web sites, and will pay $300,000 in penalties and costs to the State of New York. The case is believed to be the first in the nation aimed at combating "astroturfing," a growing problem on the Internet.
Lifestyle Lift employees published positive reviews and comments about the company to trick Web-browsing consumers into believing that satisfied customers were posting their own stories. These tactics constitute deceptive commercial practices, false advertising, and fraudulent and illegal conduct under New York and federal consumer protection law. The settlement marks a strike against the growing practice of “astroturfing,” in which employees pose as independent consumers to post positive reviews and commentary to Web sites and Internet message boards about their own company.
“This company’s attempt to generate business by duping consumers was cynical, manipulative, and illegal,” said Attorney General Cuomo.
“My office has and will continue to be on the forefront in protecting consumers against emerging fraud and deception, including ‘astroturfing,’ on the Internet.”
Lifestyle Lift has more than 40 locations across the U.S., including Manhattan, Long Island and Syracuse. The company engaged in a concerted effort to bombard Internet message boards with positive stories about themselves. Lifestyle Lift’s president believed that negative Internet postings had significantly hurt the company’s reputation and thought the success of the company hinged on controlling messages posted online.
Company employees were directed to create accounts with various Internet message boards and pose as satisfied customers of Lifestyle Lift.
Employees also attacked legitimate message board posters who criticized Lifestyle Lift and tried to get those posts removed from message boards.
Internal emails discovered by Attorney General Cuomo’s investigation show that Lifestyle Lift employees were given specific instructions to engage in this illegal activity. One e-mail to employees said:
“Friday is going to be a slow day - I need you to devote the day to doing more postings on the web as a satisfied client.” Another internal email directed a Lifestyle Lift employee to “Put your wig and skirt on and tell them about the great experience you had.”
In addition to posting on various Internet message board services, Lifestyle Lift also registered and created stand-alone Web sites, such as MyFaceliftStory.com, designed to appear as if they were created by independent and satisfied customers of Lifestyle Lift. The sites offered positive narratives about the Lifestyle Lift experience. Some of these sites purported to offer forums for users to add their own comments about Lifestyle Lift. In reality, however, Lifestyle Lift either provided all the “user comments” themselves, or closely monitored and edited third-party comments to skew the discussion in favor of Lifestyle Lift. Examples of these narratives can be downloaded at www.oag.state.ny.us/bureaus/internet_bureau/pdfs/LifestyleLiftStories.pdf.
According to the Attorney General’s settlement, Lifestyle Lift employees will no longer pose as consumers when publishing on the Internet. The company will not promote Lifestyle Lift’s services on the Internet without clearly and conspicuously disclosing that they are responsible for the content. The company will also pay $300,000 in penalties and costs to New York State.
The investigation was handled by Chief of the Internet Bureau Justin Brookman and Investigator Vanessa Ip, under the direction of Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Michael Berlin.
Lifestyle Lift issued this statement:
Troy, MI (July 14, 2009)…Lifestyle Lift, Inc. and its related companies agreed to enter into an Assurance of Discontinuance with the office of the New York State Attorney General. Lifestyle Lift agreed to acknowledge and identify all future website content and web postings related to information on Lifestyle Lift® procedures, patients and outcomes. Today, all existing web content is in compliance with acceptable business standards.
Thousands of patients have enjoyed the safe and effective Lifestyle Lift® face lift. Many have called, or sent letters and emails expressing satisfaction with their results and quick recovery. According to post operative surveys, some patients describe the results as rolling back the calendar an average of ten years or more on their personal appearance and some have described the procedure as “life changing.”
Lifestyle Lift® regrets that earlier third-party website content did not always properly reflect and acknowledge patient comments or indicate that the content was provided by Lifestyle Lift®. All “before” and “after” photography is of actual patients and their results. However, some web postings were representative of patient testimonials and comments rather than actual verbatim comments.
All the surgeons, consultants and staff at Lifestyle Lift® are very proud to have established the highest standard of excellence in the practice of plastic facial surgery; however, in the past, some of the practice’s online communication failed to meet that same professional standard. Today all informational materials fairly and accurately reflect the actual comments and results of Lifestyle Lift patients.
Lifestyle Lift® voluntarily agreed to make certain disclosures in Internet postings and advertising. “We absolutely support the NY Attorney General’s objective of insuring integrity in the marketplace,” said Allan S. Rubin, legal counsel for Lifestyle Lift®. “Lifestyle Lift is satisfied that we reached a reasonable compromise with NY Attorney General Cuomo’s office. We are happy to have a resolution to the matter,” added Rubin.
Almost all businesses and organizations, including Lifestyle Lift®, have been victims of false and malicious Internet attacks, and it presents a continuing challenge for businesses as to how to respond quickly and appropriately to unfair or biased criticism. Therefore, in order to assure Lifestyle Lift® patients and prospective patients of the authenticity and fairness of Internet communications, the company has taken a leadership position and established an unprecedented code of conduct and assurance for the public.
“The Attorney General’s complaints stem from a period prior to the present management team’s leadership,” said Gordon Quick, president of Lifestyle Lift. “We’re proud of the quality of our patient care and our ability to deliver excellent outcomes at an affordable price. We also acknowledge that business and organizations have to be held to a higher standard of conduct, and Lifestyle Lift® pledges to be a leader in its Internet communications as well as its medical practice. We want to be acknowledged as a model of integrity and accuracy, and that’s why we’re proud to announce the Lifestyle Lift Code of Internet Conduct and Assurance,” said Quick.
The Lifestyle Lift Code of Internet Conduct and Assurance Lifestyle Lift® pledges that all Internet communications accompanied by the trademarked Lifestyle Lift® logo are fair and accurately represent the latest in medical information about plastic facial surgery.
The comments and photographs are from actual patients and fairly represent the results and opinions of thousands of our patients. Lifestyle Lift® is proud to take a leadership role in establishing new standards of Internet conduct and communications.
We promise that any Internet communication accompanied by our logo can be relied upon as true and accurate; and all communications originating from our practice will be clearly identified with the Lifestyle Lift® logo.
If you have any questions or concerns about the authenticity of any internet content or postings, please contact Lifestyle Lift®.
Lifestyle Lift® and its experienced doctors specialize in facial rejuvenation procedures that have helped over 100,000 men and women look and feel younger. Based in Troy, Michigan, Lifestyle Lift® operates and manages over 32 centers across the country, with nearly 100 board-certified (or board-eligible) physicians who specialize in facial and neck procedures.