A facelift firm is being slapped with a $300,000 fine by New York state for flooding the internet with fake positive reviews about itself.
State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said the case is believed to be the first in the US to punish so-called "astroturf" marketing.
Under a settlement deal announced Tuesday, the cosmetic surgery outfit Lifestyle Lift agreed to cut out publishing anonymous positive reviews about the company on internet message boards and websites and pay the state $300,000 in penalties.
Lifestyle Lift, which mostly targets consumers though infomercials as a "minor one-hour" facial firming procedure, has a history of aggressively guarding its reputation online. The company has filed several lawsuits alleging trademark violations against websites that publish negative reviews or comments about the company.
Cuomo's office alleges Lifestyle Lift's president decided negative internet postings were causing a significant loss of face and ordered his employees to pose as satisfied customers on various internet message boards and websites. Internal emails discovered in the investigation show specific marching orders to engage in the illegal activity:
"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," one email to employees read.
"Put your wig and skirt on and tell them about the great experience you had," stated another.
Lifestyle Lift also created stand-alone websites and blogs made to appear as if they were created by independent, satisfied customers.
"I decided to create this website because I wanted to share my story with others," one such website stated. "After my first consultation, I went online and read horror stories about Lifestyle Lift. People were trashing Lifestyle Lift, their employees, their doctors, etc...I got scared and seriously thought about canceling my procedure. I was getting cold feet. What was with all the negative posts online? Those negative stories did not ad up at at...
"I realized quickly that most of that stuff was probably made up: the reviews were using long medical terms that only a doctor would use..." it continued. "I also talked to my doctor about it.... He told me that many of the negative stories I was reading online were probably from envious doctors and just made up because he never heard any of this from his patients."
According to the settlement, Lifestyle Lift employees will no longer pose as customers on the internet. The company also agreed not to promote its services without disclosing they are responsible for the content. ®