Fake online fraud reviews: California agencies fail to protect consumers

In summary

District attorneys, state bar and medical board should protect Californians, but they don’t seem interested in deterring consumer fraud.

Review websites are riddled with bogus reviews imposed on consumers by tech companies that take advantage of federal law that holds them not responsible for user-generated content.

But that’s not the only problem for California consumers. The state agencies that are supposed to protect us, on the contrary, turn a blind eye to this fraud, even that perpetrated by the medical community.

The National Public Radio show Reveal recently ran an article featuring my investigation into online notice fraud.

Three years ago, I received a letter from a lawyer threatening to take legal action over a factual review of Yelp that I wrote about a psychiatric practice in Santa Clara County. I refused to succumb to the bullying, and after further harassment, I continued the practice in small claims court as a matter of principle for inflicting emotional distress.

I won, but that was just the start of my odyssey. I’m a former Federal Fraud Investigator, and following my suspicions, I discovered something else: This psychiatric practice was tampering with Yelp reviews that convinced me to go there in the first place.

I also discovered that the firm was posting fake prices on its website and social media. Finally, a year later, I confirmed that the original letter from the attorney at the psychiatric firm was a fake and that someone had introduced themselves as the attorney in the follow-up emails. I have written proof from the actual lawyer himself that he never signed the letter, never sent e-mails, and knew nothing about my case.

While I was gathering my information, I passed it on to the Santa Clara County District Attorney, the California Medical Board, and the State Bar. The DA’s office was interested first, and why not? My file included several fake Yelp and Google reviews exchanged by the psychiatric practice with other companies, all organized on Facebook. I had the names of the other companies and people involved, the dates of the trades and the corresponding notices. Yelp even inadvertently confirmed my information by later deleting many of the same reviews for violating their terms of service.

The DA could have turned this into a larger multi-jurisdictional case targeting several companies who fraudulently deceived consumers.

While my own investigation into fake reviews has expanded over the past two years, our California consumer protection agencies have done nothing. The psychiatric practice maintains stellar Yelp and Google ratings, and apparently continues its fraudulent ways.

I was recently contacted by a woman complaining that the same practice had cheated her over $ 3,000 on her credit card. She informed the prosecutor and was told to take it to her local police department. The medical commission never followed up on my complaint; in fact, the council won’t even post my judgment on its website to warn consumers because, according to the council, judgments must be against individual doctors, not medical companies, to assess a warning.

What about the State Bar? He closed the case, citing insufficient evidence, despite a written statement from one of their own members that he had not signed a letter allegedly signed by him.

The problem of medical practices falsifying reviews is more widespread than you might think. I’ve found over 50 in California, and I’m a lone investigator. Incidentally, I also found 26 dentists and 45 attorneys in California rigging reviews.

The primary mission of our prosecutors, the state bar, and the medical board is to protect the citizens of that state, but they don’t seem interested in deterring consumer fraud, even through a psychiatric practice that falsifies reviews, falsifies rewards and forgeries being a lawyer. It is time for our agencies to step up and protect patients, and indeed all consumers, from fake review fraud practitioners.