Plastic surgery provider faces federal lawsuit for allegedly posting fake reviews

A Seattle-area plastic surgery provider is facing federal prosecution for allegedly posting false positive reviews online and intimidating or bribing patients to remove negative reviews, Washington state prosecutors said Thursday.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office says Allure Esthetic and its owner, Dr. Javad Sajan, misled patients and the public “through a host of illegal, unfair and deceptive practices.” The company allegedly ordered its employees to create fake email accounts in order to write and post fictitious positive reviews on sites such as Google and Yelp.

Allure threatened to sue patients if they refused to remove negative reviews, according to the lawsuit. Other times, he offered patients money and free services or products to weed out negative reviews. The practice also had more than 10,000 patients sign nondisclosure agreements before receiving treatment that prevented them from posting negative reviews online, according to the lawsuit.

Allure performs surgical and non-surgical treatments ranging from Botox to gender affirmation procedures, according to the statement.

“Threatening and bribing customers to prevent them from sharing the truth about their experience is not only wrong, it’s illegal,” Ferguson said in a press release. “Patients rely on reviews to determine if a health care provider is right for them, and using legal threats and bribes to manipulate these reviews is misleading and hurts Washingtonians.”

Allure did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Called Thursday by an Associated Press reporter, a person answering the phone for the company hung up three times.

A version of the NDA used from 2017 to 2019 also required defendants to agree to waive health privacy rights, stating that they must allow the provider to include personal health information in responses to negative posts. according to the trial.

Some patients said they weren’t told about the agreement and didn’t know they had signed it because it was handed to them in a thick pile of pre-procedure paperwork that needed to be completed before to receive treatment.

Victoria Hester said she made an appointment with Sajan in 2021 for a gender affirmation procedure based on positive online reviews. Speaking through tears at a Friday press conference alongside Ferguson, Hester said the date ended up causing ‘long-lasting trauma’, describing the doctor’s examination of her body as “degrading”. Sajan refused to perform the procedure, Hester said.

“I wrote a negative review because of the way he examined my body and humiliated me in his office,” Hester said. Shortly after, Allure called and threatened legal action.

“I had never heard of signing this NDA. And I had never known that a practice would require it, to try to prevent people from sharing their experience,” Hester said. “I posted my negative review because I wanted other transgender and gender non-conforming patients to know about what I went through.”

Allure considered anything with less than four stars a negative review, according to the lawsuit.

From 2017 to 2022, Allure required patients to sign “pre-service” nondisclosure agreements that required them to contact the company if they had a problem instead of posting about it online in a negative review.

Some patients who posted negative reviews were contacted by Allure with offers of cash or free services and products in exchange for their post being removed. Patients who accepted the offer were then required to sign a second NDA requiring them to remove the review and refrain from posting negative reviews in the future under threat of a $250,000 fine. according to the trial.

The lawsuit cites former employees who said they were asked to create Gmail accounts with stock photos for profile pictures and use them to scour other Seattle-area businesses, including Applebee Restaurants. and Pennzoil oil change locations, to impersonate a real consumer and avoid detection by online review platforms.

Allure also asked employees to edit “before and after” photos to make the results of its procedures more flattering, according to the lawsuit.

Allure Esthetic operates under multiple names, including Alderwood Surgical Center, Gallery of Cosmetic Surgery, Seattle Plastic Surgery, Northwest Nasal Sinus Center and Northwest Face & Body, according to the lawsuit.

Ferguson filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

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