NY Attorney General Settles with Firm Posting Fake Web Reviews

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has settled with a plastic surgery company, alleging the firm published phony positive testimonials and Web sites. Lifestyle Lift, associated with Michigan-based Scientific Image Center Management, agreed to pay $300,000 to New York State and stop posting false endorsements of its facial cosmetic surgery services.

The NY AG’s Office has been particularly interested in the practice of posting fake consumer reviews, often called astroturfing, for several months. The settlement is its first in the category. Lifestyle Lift has locations in Long Island, Manhattan, and Syracuse, as well as across the U.S.

Lifestyle Lift’s main Web site promises the face-firming procedure “Quickly removes wrinkles and sagging skin,” and can help customers “look years younger, with a natural, refreshed appearance.”

Like many companies offering procedures that may seem too good to be true, the company is subject to lots of online reviews, both positive and negative. Though it’s often near impossible to determine whether an endorsement is honest or not, the AG’s Office claims to have proof of Lifestyle Lift’s allegedly deceitful intentions. According to the AG’s Office, investigators uncovered e-mails sent to employees of the company directing them to post positive reviews of its services online. As noted by the AG’s Office in a press statement, one e-mail sent to staffers read, “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.”

The company’s employees allegedly created false accounts on online forums, posting positive reviews, as well as counteracting critics of Lifestyle Lift. Web sites were also created by the firm to convince potential customers of the benefits of the service, according to the AG’s Office. For instance, MyLifestyleLift.com includes a journal describing the experiences of 58-year-old Maureen: “I think I should shut myself in a closet for a while until I calm down, but I am still so impressed with difference I see — I can’t help but talk about it.”

That site, along with other sites featuring positive information about the company’s procedures such as LifeStyleLiftLetters.com and MyFaceliftStory.com are currently operating; a disclaimer stating ownership by Lifestyle Lift is present in small text at the bottom of each site.

The company also runs LifestyleLiftProblems.com, which states, “Being a leader in the field of facial rejuvenation makes us a bigger target for critics and consumer review websites. While we’re disappointed in that, it is the price for unlimited Internet and mass media access. And we stand by our track record for patient satisfaction and positive results!”

LifestyleLift.com features a “Code of Internet Conduct and Assurance” seal, and states, “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.”

Neither the company logo nor the seal image is present on MyLifestyleLift.com, LifeStyleLiftLetters.com, and MyFaceliftStory.com.

All of the firm’s existing Web content is “in compliance with acceptable business standards,” noted Scientific Image Center Management in a statement sent to ClickZ News after the original version of this story was published. In the statement, Lifestyle Lift President Gordon Quick said, “The Attorney General’s complaints stem from a period prior to the present management team’s leadership.”

Trade groups such as the Word of Mouth Marketing Association have set guidelines for ethical practices to combat inappropriate marketing behavior on Web forums, comments, blogs and other social media environmentss. While many companies conducting word-of-mouth and viral campaigns abide by the guidelines, rogue players often disregard them. The Federal Trade Commission plans to unveil updated guidelines affecting customer endorsements and paid blogging this summer.

“My office has and will continue to be on the forefront in protecting consumers against emerging fraud and deception, including ‘astroturfing,’ on the Internet,” said Cuomo in the press release.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published before Scientific Image Center Management sent its statement to ClickZ News.

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