Fake Reviews and Cosmetic Surgery

8 minute read

Fake reviews are common place in the cosmetic industry since it is up to the consumer to personally vet their surgeon and clinic. There are numerous instances of cosmetic business planting reviews and the advent of social media “influencers” posing with products just makes it even worse. Fashion Law reported that beauty influencers on Instagram are sometimes offered over $70,000 for posting negative reviews about products. There was a halarious episode showing how to become the #1 top-rated restaurant in London in which the author simply had his friends write fake reviews for 1 month until he was at the top. The restaurant did not exist. Meanwhile, TripAdvisor has claimed to stop over 60 paid review companies since 2015.

When it comes to cosmetic reviews, a general rule of thumb is this

Surgeons with less desirable credentials and results must heavily rely on marketing

Med Spas are well known to employ sales tactics and offer promotions. Here is a video describing the dangers of med spas

Non-board certified plastic surgeons that tout themselves as “cosmetic” and everything else under the sun will often have hundreds of google, healthgrades, and realself 5-star reviews. This is because there is no moderation or fact-checking on these with the exception of a valid email address. No pictures are required either. Yelp is the exception to the rule in that it is substantially more difficult to post a fake reviews. Yelp is a review-based company and its business model revolves around truthful reviews. Google and realself for example do not make their income from their review system. Google is more concerned about systematic abuse rather than individual account abuse. Realself makes its money from the subscribing doctors and thus their incentive is to welcome a large quantity of reviews, whether they are real or not.

Be weary of using realself to validate a plastic surgeon

As already exposed in this article, realself hardly verifies any claims or reviews and it really can’t be trusted.

A study by a group of plastic surgeons uncovered that Google page rankings were influenced by aggressive social media marketing, but not by actual physician credentials.

This is just how it is with Google. The platform was designed from the start to show users the most popular product or service they’re researching; actual quality is more difficult to measure. In our view, it’s critical that prospective patients understand this characteristic of search engines. Dr. Elliot Jacobs

Dr. Lebowitz, a prominent New York cosmetic surgeon has an interesting online profile. His google profile shows 180 5-star reviews yet his yelp profile only shows 3 reviews with an average score of 2.5 stars. As mentioned, it is significantly more difficult to spoof reviews on yelp. It should also be mentioned that 97% of all of Dr. Lebowitz google reviewers have only 1 review to their entire activity profile. There are (surprise) no pictures with any of the reviews either. Compare this profile to a more traditional doctor or plastic surgeon such as Dr. Schuster of Maryland who has 26 google reviews and 9 yelp reviews of good and bad scores spread throughout 7 years. Dr. Schuster has been in practice significantly longer than Dr. Lebowitz as well.

An infamous doctor was foricbly removed from a popular public forum after numerous raving reviews were left with the same IP address. The owner of that clinic must have forgotten to login to their VPN before commenting. The moderators have to often shutdown threads that appear to be baseless shills for certain doctors and clinics, often located in Asia.

It is not illegal to post generic 5 star reviews, however it is much easier to file a lawsuit for reviews that can be labeled as defamatory. A generic “Great service!” is significantly harder to take down versus a negative review, even if it factually correct, due to the potential defamatory backlash.

Companies exist such as eMerit in which they manage a doctors online profile. They take reviews and post them all over online. Here is what eMerit had to say about posting reviews:

If I use eMerit, where will my patient reviews go?

The most sought after doctor review websites like Healthgrades, Vitals, UCompare Healthcare and RateMDs offer patients libraries of free review content about you. They also trend well within the Internet’s most popular search engines. When a patient looks for doctor reviews, most of what they see is published by these websites. By populating the whole web with positive patient reviews, your name and practice will also benefit from crowd-sourcing – which basically means this: Instead of a few patients whispering good things about you in one place, you could have a whole chorus of patients singing your praises all across the Web.

They essentially blast a single review onto multiple platforms. How they do this with fake profiles is unknown, but the tactic is dirty to say the least.

Here is an example product of magical gynoecomastia pills on Amazon that has obviously been gamed since there is no such evidence to support any pill claims. I used a website called fakespot to determine how likely the reviews are genuine. Plastic surgeons know their prostpecticve clients use the internet and try to manipulate consumers as much as possible to come their way. Eric Joseph claims that as much as 62% of his buisness is received from online reviewers and 60% of new patients validate their decision online.

Unfortunately, there is no service like this for google, healthgrades, ratemymd, or yelp reviews.

How people can leave fake reviews

The process is extremely simple and can be easily abused if one wishes to prove a point. Fake google, facebook, and yelp accounts can be purchased anonymously via cryptocurrenices. You can buy aged accounts and accounts that were created within your specific region in order to bypass some potential basic checks to avoid being labeled as a fake reviewer.

A free VPN can then be used to mask your true IP and obtain a location that is close to your target review to make a review. This happened with tripadvisor and they had to make a purge of all the fake accounts.

Healthgrades and ratemymd only require a temporary email address that you can easily acquire via temp-mail

All of this just requires a few dollars and minutes of your time.

How to recognize valid reviews

Here are a few tips to separate the legitimate reviews from the poor ones:

  • Put more trust into Yelp. Yelp is one of the better review websites when compared to google, realself, healthgrades, facebook, and ratemymd. above any other review service
  • Ignore reviewers with no record. Reviewers with only one post is likely a fake review, so take them with a grain of salt
  • Ignore ads in mailbox or on google. Bad doctors or doctors who aren’t plastic surgeons that typically work at medical spas need to advertise. Reputable surgeons don’t need to rely on these tactics nearly as much.
  • Look for reviews with before/after pictures. While these can still be manipulated, these reviews should be taken more serious.
  • Standouts. Reviews that go through an extremely thorough process including the names of the nurses and staff as well as describing office objects and such should be taken lightly. Average reviewers are more concerned with the results and the dr, not so much the staff and how nice everyone was and how nice the office looked. How many times do you read “As soon as I walked through the door, I was in good hands, etc etc.”