Dentists: Fake Negative Online Review Nets Business Owner 150K

Dentists: Fake Negative Online Review Nets Business Owner 150KOver the past three years The Wealthy Dentist has covered stories regarding negative online reviews and how dentists should handle them as part of an overall dental marketing strategy.

We’ve agreed that no one should be allowed to post an anonymous reviews against a dentist, because the costs to a dental practice can be high, and the dentist has little hope of investigating the circumstances to turn the situation around.

Not to mention the real possibility that the dentist might be dealing with an anonymous derogatory review that is actually fake.

The best a dentist could do was soften the impact of the negative review online is by responding with positive attributes about his or her dental practice. Any attempt to sue over a negative review always seemed to favor the poster of the review — not the recipient.

But it seems the courts are finally starting to take notice.

Recently, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a $150,000 putative damage reward to a plaintiff for defamation caused by 3 fake online reviews.

In 1999, Peter Mitchell and Michael Hosto co-founded a property damage restoration company. Their restoration business was so successful that in 2003 they created BoardUp, Inc., a lead generation service for restoration companies covering five area codes that encompassed significant portions of central and eastern Missouri and the southwestern portion of Illinois.

The partners successfully ran the companies for 4 years until a deterioration in their relationship and the commencement of litigation forced Mitchell and Hosto to dissolve their business associations by entering into a Settlement Agreement in 2007. As a result of the agreement Hosto ended up with BoardUp and Mitchell ended up with the restoration company.

But Hosto was apparently not happy with how the settlement came down.

Hosto went online and posted 3 fake negative reviews about Mitchell and his restoration work. According to court records the first two reviews were posted on March 31, 2008, on Google and Yahoo, respectively. In those fabricated reviews, Hosto used the names of prior customers of the restoration company to create detailed accounting of dealings with Mitchell that encouraged potential customers to avoid contracting with the company.

Here are 2 of the fake reviews:

1. 1st Review on Google (there were 2) –
Grade: F. Dealing with these people was the single biggest mistake I have ever made in my whole life. I[t] was a miserable experience and the job was done so poorly we decided to sell the house. They were great salesman [sic] but their workman [sic] were idiots and the owner was not willing to help in any way. I was so happy just to get them out of my life I paid them much more than I should have because their law firm threatened to lien my house if I disagree[d] with any part of their bill. All I can say is if they show up in your front yard in the middle of the night after your house catchs [sic] on fire, RUN! Do yourself a favor and call your insurance company and get a referal [sic] for legitimate business people.

2. Review on Yahoo –
They were a pain in the neck when I least needed one! Like the other guy [,] The Fire Works Restoration Company showed up in the middle of the night while the firemen where [sic] still putting out the fire. Their emergency board up guys were great. I liked them so much I decided maybe they weren’t so bad when a salesman from the Fire Works Restoration Company showed up the next day. Then they offered to do a “Free Estimate.” So [F]ire [W]orks was a lot higher than the other company. [T]hey got into a long drawn out fight about 1) the cost to remove the water and 2) the cost to dry out the house and 3) the cost to rebuild the house and 4) the cost to clean our stuff. The whole thing turned out to be such a nightmare that I figured it was just easier to deal with the insurance company contractor (the one these guys told me was gonna rip me off!!!!). [S]o when I told them I was not going with them then they sent me a bill even bigger than the first that the insurance company already said they didn’t want to pay. [T]he [F]ire [W]orks guy said it was a “supplement” and the first bill was not complete. [T]hey wanted an additional $1,700 more than the first bill (which was already too high!!!). Moral of the story–––people that seem nice usually are nice but not always.

As soon as Mitchell discovered the negative reviews, he initiated a “John Doe” lawsuit to ascertain the identity of the poster of the online reviews. Yahoo identified Mitchell’s ex-partner, Hosto as the person who posted the negative review on its website. Ultimately Hosto emailed Mitchell admitting that he had posted the negative reviews. Mitchell then brought a defamation suit against both Hosto personally and his company, BoardUp. In response, Hosto filed a counterclaim alleging defamation against Mitchell.

A jury agreed with Mitchell in his personal defamation claim against Hosto and only awarded him $1.00 in actual damages, but awarded him $150,000 in punitive damages. In addition, the jury rejected both Mitchell’s defamation claim against BoardUp and Hosto’s counterclaim against Mitchell.

At first review it might be hard to understand why the jury only awarded Mitchell $1.00 in actual damages, but this may be because it is difficult to prove that a potential customer who Mitchell has never done business with actually decided not to employ the services of his company based on a negative online review.

But the $150,000 in punitive damages does send the message that online posters are responsible for the negative reviews they leave online.

In a research study by Cone, Inc., they found that 80% of consumers have changed their mind about purchases based on negative information that they found online and 87% claimed that positive reviews reinforce their purchasing decisions.

In the future a dentist may very well be able to prove that his or her dental practice was adversely affected by a false negative review and will receive a more sizable actual damages amount.

Have you ever experienced a fake negative online review? How did you handle it?

For help in handling negative online reviews, see The Wealthy Dentist’s dental marketing article, Dental Marketing: A Guide for Avoiding Negative Online Reviews

Dentist Review Websites: Get Used to It

Dentist Review Websites: Get Used to ItLast week we told you about the latest controversy on the consumer review website Yelp: a California dentist who’s suing because of a negative review.

It’s easy to see why the dentist was frustrated by an unflattering and inaccurate review. But she’s received lots of bad press from free-speech advocates for her lawsuit.

It doesn’t seem like legal action is necessarily the best way to deal with a bad review.

There’s no turning back the clock. A pre-Internet mentality is no longer relevant. Like it or not, customer review websites do exist, and they’re only getting more popular.

“Litigants have this pre-Internet mentality where they think they can control messages about themselves in public,” Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, recently told the SF Weekly. “But the online community will see this as a slap in the face and retaliate. … It blows up in [the litigant’s] face.”

Managing your reputation online

Even if you’ve never submitted your business information anywhere, chances are excellent that you’re already listed with one or more of these websites. You can find out what patients are saying about you by searching for your name and geographic area on any of these sites.

Most of these sites allow business owners a degree of control over their listings. A good listing should include your name, dental practice name, address, phone number, hours, and treatment specialties. You should correct any inaccurate information.

Uploading photos to your listing is also a great way to give prospective patients more insight into your practice. A photo of the lobby offers a sense of ambiance, while a storefront photo can make it easier for new patients to find your location.

What do you do about a bad review?

Well, you can sue, but that won’t necessarily solve the problem, and you could end up getting a lot of bad press.

Or you can decide not to worry about it. This is certainly the easiest thing to do! Don’t waste too much brainpower on one unhappy customer who wants to complain publicly.

But some business owners just can’t ignore the one-star reviews. either because they’re personally upset or because they feel it will hurt their business.

Reaching out to the owners of the review website will not always be effective. Yelp, for example, will not remove a review unless it violates their terms of service. Moreover, the site does not permit business owners to directly respond to any reviews, comments or allegations.

The most effective strategy for removing a bad review seems to be to convince the reviewer to change their rating. While this is great for unhappy customers, it’s frustrating to business owners.

“The power for [Yelpers] to put a bad remark can crush us,” said a San Francisco florist in an interview with the SF Weekly. “So we have to do 10 steps above everything. We literally overdo customer service.”

Dentists: Can Copyright Law Protect You from Negative Online Reviews?

dentists and copyright lawOnline dental reviews can be a problem for dentists when negative reviews appear, especially when they feel the review is possibly retaliatory or bogus.

A few thousand doctors have taken matters into their own hands by working with a company called Medical Justice, that created a way to use copyright law to go after negative online reviews.

For about $100.00 a month, Medical Justice protects its doctors by going to online review sites and demanding any bad reviews be removed due to “a breach of copyright.” The company instructs doctors to have their patients sign contracts that assign away the copyright in any future review the patient might be compelled to write online.

Techland Times reports that Medical Justice claims what they’re doing is not only protecting the doctors from unfair bad press, but also from bogus reviews. “Some sites say, we don’t know if you’re telling truth, and we don’t know if they’re telling the truth — it’s the Internet, so deal with it,” contends Shane Stadler of Medical Justice.

Moco News writes that by having patients assign copyright in any reviews to their doctor, Medical Justice is hoping to help doctors get around Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (an “arcane nuance of cyberlaw,” according to Medical Justice’s website), the law that protects web services from getting sued over content posted by their users.

It is being reported that Yelp has refused to honor a doctor’s take-down notice based on copyright infringement, and another online review website called RateMDs created a “Wall of Shame” to identify doctors who are using the copyright contracts.

Sound unreasonable? Do you think it’s irrational to demand dental patients sign a copyright assignment form when they visit a dentist office?

For more on this story see Doctors Now Using Breach of Copyright to Quash Bad Online Reviews and Can Doctors Use Copyright Law To Get Rid Of Negative Reviews?

Dental Marketing: A Guide for Avoiding Negative Online Reviews

dentists negative online reviewsIn customer service it used to be said that an unhappy customer would tell nine to fifteen other people about their negative opinions.

Today an unhappy dental patient can influence hundreds of people by leaving a negative review on an online review website, in their Facebook stream or on Google Places.

Negative reviews can be painful, but is there a way to avoid a dental marketing disaster?

Mike Blumenthal of the Rapid Web Division of advises the following for avoiding negative reviews — I’ve adapted them for dentistry.

1- Do your follow-up.
Follow up with patients immediately after the completion of treatment with a call and/or an email to be sure that all went as planned. Identify problems early on in the cycle so that you can correct them before they become complaints.

2- Make complaining easy.
Build a culture that is truly ready to receive the complaint at every level of your practice, from the front desk to the doctor. Train your staff and train them well to not be defensive and to solve most problems immediately.

3- Respond quickly to complaints.
When you do receive a complaint, follow up quickly and try to resolve it. Nothing rankles like a dental patient stewing about your bad service like waiting for a return phone call.

4-Respond to negative reviews online.
Once the issue is resolved, circle back with the patient about the review. A recent survey has shown that an appropriate response to a negative can get the negative review removed in a third of the cases. A roughly an equal number of consumers posted a positive review after receiving a response to their bad review. Having a plan and responding appropriately to a negative review is critical to this process.

5-Never fake reviews or enter them on behalf of your patients.
It is imperative that you not provide reviewers with any trace that you are abusing your review corpus. Getting slammed by a patient review that questions your ethics calls into question your trustworthiness and integrity. It is the most difficult type of negative review to deal with, even if it is not true. Responding online to the question, “Do you beat your wife with a stick or a club?” creates a no-win situation.

6- Communicate with your local competitors.
Competitor spam reviews are becoming more common than ever. If you are on speaking terms with them, you are much less likely to fall victim to a puerile spam review attack. The reality is that other similar local practices are not the long-term determinant of your success, nor really your major competition.

Just remember that when you are dealing with a negative review, it’s important to avoid appearing sarcastic and placing blame on the patient.   Try and find out what may have set this dental patient off and see if you can prevent this from happening again in the future.

There may be a hidden opportunity in a negative review — if you handle it right — it can become a dental marketing opportunity

There is a story about an Italian restaurant that received an online negative review about their spaghetti. This lead to another negative review, and another, until the owner sat down one night and ate a plate of his spaghetti. He had to agree that his spaghetti was awful, and here he was running an Italian restaurant.

He decided to run a contest inviting people to taste different spaghetti recipes at his restaurant and vote on the one they liked best. The promotion ended up being a big success, and his restaurant ended up with a new, improved spaghetti recipe that customers loved.

He then went on to promote his restaurant as one that actively listens to what the customer wants. He turned a negative into a money-making positive, and past customers are coming back to his restaurant too.

How would you handle a negative online review?

Dental Marketing: Lawsuit Looks at Slander in Negative Online Reviews

Dental Marketing: Lawsuit Looks at Slander in Negative Online ReviewsDentists, just when you thought there was no hope for combating negative online reviews, Virginia contractor, Christopher Dietz is suing a former customer, Jane Perez for a negative online reviews she wrote on Yelp and Angie’s list.

What makes this case encouraging is that the judge has already granted Dietz a temporary injunction against Perez and has ordered the ex-client to change her online reviews.

Perez had written online that the contractor not only performed shoddy workmanship, but some of her jewelry had also disappeared. She further wrote, “Bottom line do not put yourself through this nightmare of a contractor.”

Dietz didn’t take her negative posts lightly, and sued Perez, stating that not only had he completed the job as contracted, but performed more work than was agreed upon and still has not been paid.

Deitz further contends that the negative online reviews have cost him about $350,000.00 in business.

Slander is a legal term for stating a falsehood and presenting it as true which could harm the reputation of a person or business. In the case of Perez, if contractor Dietz did not steal any jewelry (and apparently there is no police report stating that he did) then Perez could be found libel for defamation of character and Dietz would be able to collect damages.

Some might argue that the lawsuit seeks to squash Perez’s right to free speech, but freedom of speech does not protect you from the consequences of free speech.

Perez can offer an opinion like, “I was not happy with the quality of work.” But she cannot say things like “He is a ripoff artist who steals from his clients.” One statement is an opinion based on feelings the other is a statement that she’d have to provide proof that he is a “ripoff artist who has been convicted of stealing from clients.” Technically, you can’t bear false witness, so when leaving an online review, the review must stick to the facts, like “I had to wait two hours for my appointment,” or “My steak was medium when I asked for rare,” or “The toy broke the minute my son picked it up,” and so forth.

It’s been difficult for dentists, as well as business owners to get used to the idea that a dental patient or a patron can complain about their business in such a permanent, public way and the courts are scrambling to legally catch up to this new technology.

And lawsuits themselves can bring more unwanted negative publicity.

Deciding to sue can paint a dentist into a more negative light with the general public than the damage done by the negative review, but what does a dentist do if the online review is truly defamatory?

Hiring an attorney to manage the process of suing the reviewer in court can be extremely costly, so a dentist would need to weigh the costs against any revenue loss directly attributed to the negative review.

The Wealthy Dentist has advised dentists to instead use the money to initiate an aggressive Internet dental marketing campaign to counter the review. Immediately addressing the review in a calm manner can also help quickly counter what the reviewer has said.

Typically the general public does not search past page two of online search results and this is where a dental practice’s online engagement can help bury a negative review. Facebook Pages, Twitter pages, YouTube videos, and Pinterest pages all show up high in search.

If a dental practice has taken the time to develop an internet dental marketing plan for their online presence (using the dentist’s name and the dental practice name) they can fill the first page of Google with their own social media presence.

Regularly updating a blog and writing press releases can also help control what dental patients find when they search for a dental practice online.

If need be, dentists can use the money they would spend on an attorney to buy Google ad space for their dental practice covering the dental practice name, the dentist’s name and a geo-targeted search term like “North Beach dentist.” This will place the dental practice at the very top of search for a period of time. If a dental practice can push the negative review site from the first page of search with content and social media they’ve created specifically for dental patients, they can begin to counter the damage caused by a negative online review.

Recent publicity surrounding negative online review sites and their vulnerability to false negative reviews by competition, or personal vendettas have caused people to question the validity and trustworthiness of consumer review sites. Parodies like Joe Plummer’s “Real Actors Read Yelp Reviews” have further shown just how ridiculous online reviews can be and the lack of oversight by the review sites themselves.

Bodyform even got into the act by responding to a Facebook rant with a video parody making fun of the cliches surrounding women’s use of their feminine products while directly answering the review. Their humorous video response quickly went viral.

Keep in mind that a negative online review can add validity to the positive online reviews. It can make a dental practice appear more balanced and one negative online review in the mix will make most people think it was a difficult dental patient instead of a bad dental practice.

But no business should have to deal with slanderous, vindictive reviews and eventually online review sites are going to have to figure out a way to deal with the libelous reviews, regardless of anti-SLAPP. Eventually a business owner will win big over a slanderous review and online review sites will be forced to set stricter review guidelines.

Would you have sued if a dental patient made the same type of claims against your dental practice that Perez made about Deitz?

To read more about contractor Deitz’s lawsuit see: Virginia Contractor Sues Woman for $750,000 for Bad Yelp Review.


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