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What to Do If Your Practice is the Target of Fake Dental Reviews

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    Dentists and dental practices have been increasingly targeted by fake dental reviews in recent years. This can be extremely damaging to a dental practice, as online reviews are one of the leading factors prospective patients look to when choosing and engaging a dentist.

    If your practice is the target of fake dental reviews, we recommend taking the following steps:

    1. Determine the authenticity of the review by consulting your business records, analyzing the user’s account, and looking at the language of the review,
    2. Preserve evidence of the fake review with a computer screenshotting tool or professional-grade preservation software,
    3. Report and flag the fake review to the platform for Terms of Service (ToS) violations,
    4. Consider any confidentiality obligations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) before responding to the review,
    5. Monitor other dental review platforms for similar fake reviews about your dental practice,
    6. If necessary, work with an experienced internet defamation attorney to pursue legal action to compel the review’s removal, unmask the reviewer’s identity (if an anonymous reviewer), and obtain appropriate compensation.

    At Minc Law, we have represented countless medical and healthcare professionals targeted by fake and negative online reviews. We know what it takes to navigate the ethical minefield it can present when responding to and removing fake dental reviews, all without drawing unwanted attention to the matter.

    In this article, we will discuss some steps that you can take to address fake reviews and protect your professional reputation. We will also explain how to respond to negative reviews, without drawing more unwanted attention to the harmful content.

    How to Identify Fake Dental Reviews

    When responding to and removing negative online reviews, it is crucial to first understand how to spot fake reviews. This can be difficult, as many fake reviews are written in a way that makes them difficult to spot. However, there are some key things to look for:

    • Consult your business records to see if the review aligns with any legitimate patient experiences. Do the usernames match actual patients? Does the review match any customer complaints in your files? If they do not, you could be dealing with a fake review.
    • Research the account that posted the review. If it was created on the same day or has no other activity than a negative review of your practice, that is a red flag.
    • Identify suspicious usernames such as “Ben Dover,” or “Seymore Butts.” Sarcastic usernames may indicate a fake account.
    • Consider the timing of the reviews. If your practice has a steady five-star rating and suddenly starts seeing multiple negative reviews all at once, that is a potential red flag that the reviews are fake.
    • Analyze the language of the reviews. Do the reviews inaccurately describe your services? Do they promote a competitor? Do they contain inflammatory or grammatically incorrect language? Each of these may indicate a fake review.

    Anonymous Defamation Tip: If you are unable to identify who is behind a fake or defamatory review, you can file a John Doe lawsuit to unmake an anonymous defamer. This is a necessary part of any defamation case because you must sue the defamer, not the platform where the comment was posted.

    How Damaging Are Fake Dental Reviews?

    Fake dental reviews can be extremely damaging to a practice. This is because they can lead potential patients to choose another dentist or practice, which can result in a loss of business and a decrease in one’s overall bottom line. One Moz.com study found that even a single negative review can lead to a loss of up to 22% of customers for a business or product.

    Additionally, fake reviews can damage the reputation of a dental practice, making it difficult to attract new patients. If you are facing more than one negative review, the problem is compounded, with an estimated 60% of customers opting to avoid businesses with 3 or more negative reviews.

    Online reviews are extremely important in today’s digital landscape as they can make or break a medical practice. And sadly, online reviews do not always sync with the actual quality of one’s practice. This is problematic because the vast majority of U.S. consumers trust online reviews, with roughly 90% of consumers in the coveted 18-34-year-old range trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.

    In a word, most (potential) dental patients trust the reviews they read online and fail to recognize that reviews could be fake or misleading.

    For dental practices, specifically, fake reviews can lead to such dire consequences as:

    • Cancellation of existing appointments,
    • No-shows and no-calls,
    • Lower foot traffic and decreased patients,
    • Long-term patients choosing another provider,
    • Negative press,
    • Worsened public reputation of your medical practice,
    • Increased negative reviews,
    • Investigations into your practice and disciplinary action,
    • Decreased revenue, and
    • Bankruptcy.

    What Are Some Signs a Negative Dental Review is Fake?

    You likely know your practice better than anyone else, and if you suspect a review is fake, you are probably right. However, there are some telltale signs that a review is fake.

    The Review Does Not Sync With Your Patient Records

    If you suspect a review is fake, you should first consult your patient records. Does the review match a genuine marketplace interaction? Does the reviewer’s username resemble any of your current or past patients? Does the complaint match any patient complaints you have received? If not, there is a chance you are dealing with a fake review.

    The Account is New With Little or No Activity

    If the reviewer’s account was created on the same day as the review and they have no other activity than the review of your practice, that is a glaring red flag.

    The Reviewer Uses a Suspicious or Sarcastic Username

    Fake reviewers often use vague or sarcastic usernames, like “John D.” or “Ben Dover.” These usernames help the review maintain anonymity, and they may be accompanied by a stock image downloaded online.

    To determine if the reviewer used a stock image, you can conduct a reverse image search by uploading the profile picture to Google images.

    The Timing of the Review is Suspicious

    If your practice has maintained a steady positive rating and starts seeing bulk negative reviews all at once, this could be evidence of a professional review hit job (explained below).

    The Review Looks Like a Professional “Hit Job”

    Sometimes, negative reviews are left by professional review “hitmen” or agencies hired by a competitor. Typically, this kind of “hit job” is outsourced to an agency outside the United States. This means the review might contain broken English and grammatical errors. It could also be left at an odd time when most of your patients would be sleeping.

    The Content of the Review is Inaccurate

    Analyze the language of the review. Is there improper grammar or an inaccurate description of your services? Does the review promote a competitor? Does it contain inflammatory rhetoric? Each of these may indicate you are dealing with a fake patient review.

    Why Do People Post Fake Dental Reviews?

    Usually, fake reviews are left by actual customers who had a negative, genuine experience with your dental practice, competitors, or third parties with a grudge against someone who works at the practice.

    In the case of competitors and those with a grudge, they often publish fake reviews that do not reflect an actual marketplace interaction with your practice. They are left by individuals who are not patients and have never patronized your office.

    The other common type of fake review is often the result of an angry patient who had a negative experience with your practice. However, their review was posted with an ulterior motive or malicious intent.

    Instead of expressing their feelings or opinion about their interaction with your office, they choose to make false statements of fact, like “This Dentist cut through my cheek and charged me double.” Such a statement would be relatively easy to verify as true or false, crossing the line into defamation territory.

    To learn more about which types of reviews are actionable as defamation, review the section of this article entitled, “When Can You Take Legal Action Against A Person Who Posts a Fake Review of Your Dental Practice.”

    Business Owner's Guide to Monitoring Online Reputation

    Immediate Options If Your Dental Practice Receives a Fake Dental Review

    If you believe your dental practice is being targeted by fake reviews, it is critical to explore all available options for addressing the problem. You may be able to address the problem independently or work with an experienced internet defamation attorney to file a lawsuit. Whatever decision you make, however, there are ethical, confidentiality, and practical issues to consider.

    What Are the First Steps to Take if Your Practice Receives a Fake Dental Review?

    Before taking any action, legal or non-legal, you will need to preserve evidence, report the fake review, and monitor other review platforms for similar attacks.

    Preserve Evidence of the Review

    Because a fake or negative review can be deleted at any time, you must preserve a copy of the review for evidence. To preserve evidence of the review, take a screenshot of the review or use preservation software like VisualPing or Page Vault.

    Make sure you capture all pertinent information, such as the review itself, the content, account, or platform’s URL, and any likes or comments.

    Report the Review For Terms of Service Violations

    All review websites have a Terms of Service (TOS) that users must abide by when using the platform. While most platforms will not police whether a statement is defamatory or not, a fake review could potentially violate their Terms of Service.

    Flag and report the review in question, ensuring you explain why the review is fake or violates their TOS. This could be one way to get an unwanted review removed without the need for legal action.

    Monitor Other Review Platforms

    If you suspect you are being targeted by fake reviews, it is worthwhile to monitor other review platforms for similar fake reviews. The simplest way to watch other platforms is by creating a free Google Alert for your name or the name of your business. This way, you will be notified immediately of any other online mentions of you or your practice’s name.

    Can Dentists Respond to Online Reviews?

    The answer to this question is complicated, but we generally recommend that dentists do not respond to negative online reviews. By responding to a review, you could easily run afoul of HIPAA regulations that protect the privacy of your patients. Even acknowledging that a patient was an actual patient publicly can result in disciplinary action.

    Consider the case of one dentist who responded to a negative Yelp review with details that included the patient’s dental information. That dentist was subject to a HIPAA investigation and discipline for violating their patient’s privacy rights. Not only did their actions result in disciplinary action, but the review also remained available for all to see, defeating the dentist’s primary reason for reaching out.

    If you decide that a review is so egregious that it is worth responding to, there are some important considerations to keep in mind:

    • Do not acknowledge that the reviewer was a patient,
    • Do not identify the patient by name, and
    • Do not discuss individual patient experiences.

    While HIPAA does prohibit statements that include identifying personal information about the patient and their experience, simple statements about general practices are allowed, such as “We provide all patients with good dental care,” and “We appreciate your feedback. At ‘[Insert Practice Name], we aim to provide the highest value dental care and services to all of our patients. We welcome patients to contact us directly at xxx-xxx-xxxx to discuss any issues, questions, or concerns.”

    How Do You Respond to a Fake Review in a Way that Alleviates Concern Among New & Existing Patients?

    It is only natural to want to respond to negative or fake online reviews. However, all medical professionals must consider HIPAA and other confidentiality obligations when responding. If you do determine that responding to the review is absolutely necessary, then we recommend responding in the following manner:

    Reach Out Privately With a Phone Call

    An effective strategy to handle a negative review is by contacting the patient privately. Of course, this only works if you know who the patient is.

    Consult your business records to determine if an actual patient left the review and if so, reach out with a customer service mindset. Most patients who have a bad experience just want to vent, and a listening ear goes a long way toward resolving a patient’s concerns.

    Be Empathetic

    In any business, customer service matters. As difficult as it may be, try to remain empathetic and open to the patient’s concerns. Try putting yourself in their shoes to understand their perspective. Many patients who leave negative reviews just want to feel heard and understood.

    Avoid Blaming the Patient

    Aside from considering your HIPAA responsibilities, the most important thing you can do when responding to a bad review is to avoid blaming the patient. Doing so could potentially exacerbate the problem, leading to more negative reviews, or worse, it could alienate other potential patients.

    We recommend responding with a message like, “Thank you for your feedback. We aim to provide the highest quality service to all patients. We welcome our patients to contact us directly at xxx-xxx-xxxx to discuss any questions or concerns.”

    When deciding whether or not to respond to an online review, it is crucial to weigh the pros and cons carefully. In some cases, it may be best to simply ignore the review. However, in other cases, responding professionally and thoughtfully may be the best course of action.

    How Difficult is it to Get a Fake Dental Review Removed?

    There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In general, it is easier to remove a fake dental review than a bad review left by an actual patient. It can also be difficult to remove a review left by an anonymous poster or defamer, though not impossible.

    The simplest way to remove an unwanted review is by reporting Terms of Service violations. If a review explicitly violates the platform’s TOS, they may remove the review themselves if you report the TOS violation. However, if the platform does not respond or finds that the review does not violate its TOS, it can be much more challenging to get the review removed.

    In such a case, you will likely need the assistance of an experienced internet defamation attorney. An attorney can help you send a retraction demand letter to the reviewer or file a lawsuit on your behalf.

    Reputation Management Tip: In most cases, clients want bad reviews completely removed. However, there are non-legal alternatives one can action in response to defamatory or fake reviews. One option is Online Reputation Management, which uses a combination of marketing, SEO, and public relations strategies to improve your digital reputation.

    When to Seek Legal Help With Fake Negative Reviews For Your Dental Practice

    If you suspect a review is fake, you must quickly decide whether you want to take legal action or not. Most defamation claims have short statutes of limitations, requiring victims to bring a defamation lawsuit within one year of publication. In many cases, litigation known as a John Doe lawsuit must be filed to uncover the identity of an anonymous reviewer, which can be particularly time-consuming.

    But how do you decide if a bad review is worth legal action? It often depends on how much the review is affecting your practice. If you have hundreds of positive reviews and one negative review, a lawsuit may not be worth the time, effort, and expense.

    On the other hand, if a review is causing serious harm to your practice or alleges criminal misconduct, malpractice, or discrimination it is probably worth legal action to remove the review.

    What Are Your Options if a Review Site Refuses to Take Down a Fake Negative Review?

    If you have tried non-legal options for removing a review, such as flagging the review, and the platform refuses to remove the review, you have options. First, you can send a retraction demand letter requesting that the reviewer remove the review.

    However, it is wise to seek the assistance of an attorney before sending such a letter. An attorney can draft a tactful retraction demand that does not violate ethical or confidentiality considerations or trigger the Streisand Effect – a phenomenon that draws more unwanted attention to the content you are trying to remove.

    Secondly, you can file a lawsuit and obtain a court order to remove the defamatory statement or content. Again, it is best to consult with an experienced internet defamation attorney because defamation lawsuit requirements can be complex and confusing to navigate on your own.

    Video: How Medical Professionals Can Remove & Respond to Negative Patient Reviews

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    When Can You Take Legal Action Against the Person Who Posted a Fake Review of Your Dental Practice?

    Generally, you can sue a reviewer for a negative review if it violates the platform’s Terms of Service and the platform has failed to remove the review. You can also sue if you are being extorted or harassed online. And finally, you can take legal action if the review crosses into the territory of defamation.

    To sue for defamation, you will need to prove that the reviewer:

    1. Made a false statement of fact concerning you or your dental practice,
    2. Published the statement to one or more third parties,
    3. Was negligent when making the statement, and
    4. Caused damages (e.g., financial losses, mental distress) to you or your business.

    Because defamation is a speech issue, there are several viable defenses to defamation. A one-star review without any comment, for instance, may be interpreted as an opinion, which is not legally actionable.

    Why Should You Consider Legal Help to Remove Fake Reviews?

    A seasoned internet defamation attorney will be familiar with defamation law and have relationships with the major platforms where reviews are frequently posted. These attorneys can help you take steps to get the offending content removed quickly and efficiently. Additionally, they can help you understand your options and ensure that you are taking the best course of action for your particular situation.

    Internet defamation attorneys have the experience and expertise necessary to spot fake reviews, identify anonymous defamers, and achieve complete removal – without drawing more unwanted attention to the matter.

    And finally, an internet defamation attorney can help you navigate your ethical and professional responsibilities when responding to negative online reviews to protect your reputation without risking disciplinary action.

    How to Remove Fake Dental Reviews For Your Practice

    What Do You Need to Remove a Fake Dental Review From a Review Site?

    First, you will need evidence of a fake or defamatory dental review. Preservation and documentation of evidence are essential for filing a defamation lawsuit. Preserve a copy by taking a screenshot or using professional preservation software like Page Vault. Be sure to timestamp the screenshots and include the URL where the review was posted. Also, preserve evidence of any interaction with the review, such as likes and comments.

    Second, record any communication you have with the patient after leaving the review. If you respond to the review in any capacity (publicly or privately), keep detailed records of your response and the patient’s reaction to your response.

    If you believe the review violates the hosting platform’s Terms of Service, download a copy of the Terms of Service and highlight any relevant terms you think the review violates. This could potentially help if you flag or report the review to the platform.

    Finally, document any manner in which the review impacts your practice. For instance, if you see a decrease in new patient calls, record that information. If other patients cancel appointments after the review was posted, keep detailed records of any cancellations. Monitor your bottom line and preserve evidence of any financial losses that could be a result of negative reviews.

    What Are the Easiest Options For Removing Fake or Negative Dental Reviews?

    Oftentimes, the easiest way to remove a negative dental review is by reaching out privately to the reviewer. Stellar customer service is one of the best ways to get an unhappy patient to change their tune, and it does not necessarily require the assistance of an attorney. Remember to carefully consider HIPAA regulations when reaching out and follow our tips for responding to negative reviews.

    Why Do You Need Legal Aid to Remove Fake Dental Reviews?

    Law firms that focus on internet defamation can provide a wealth of information and assistance. They can help you interpret legal requirements, especially HIPAA rules when responding to negative reviews. When confronting negative online reviews, you have choices, and your legal team can advise you on the best course of action based on your unique circumstances.

    Attorneys with experience in online defamation also have the tools and know-how to contact and deal with review platforms. If you need to pursue a lawsuit to get content removed from the internet, you will want to engage the services of a skilled lawyer who understands what review platforms are looking for in a court order.

    We Can Help Remove Fake Dental Reviews About Your Practice

    Fake and negative dental reviews can have a devastating impact on your practice and its longevity, so it is critical to address them with a clear head and effective game plan.

    At Minc Law, we have successfully helped countless medical and dental professionals navigate the complexities (and ethical minefield) of responding to and removing fake patient reviews. We also have extensive experience identifying anonymous reviewers and compelling the removal of fake dental reviews.

    ★★★★★
    “We were under pressure to resolve an unfavorable Yelp review. Our Minc team was empathetic, efficient and got the job done quickly. We now have a lifeline when an on-line review becomes problematic. Many thanks to our wonderful team!”

    Ellen A

    July 13, 2021

    If you or your dental practice are the targets of fake dental reviews, contact us today by calling (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our contact form.

    Contact Minc Law

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