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Washington state plastic surgery provider under scrutiny for manipulating reviews and post-surgery photos

Washington state is suing a Seattle-area plastic surgery provider for allegedly misleading potential customers with inflated reviews and altering before-and-after photos.

(CN) — A plastic surgery provider in Seattle may be in for a legal facelift this week after Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a lawsuit claiming the clinic and its owner threatened patients into falsely inflating online ratings and photoshopped its “before and after” photos.

Ferguson filed the lawsuit on Thursday against Seattle-area provider Alderwood Surgical Center and Northwest Nasal Sinus Center — primarily known as Allure Esthetic — and its owner, Dr. Javad Sajan, for allegedly violating the Consumer Review Fairness Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

According to the lawsuit, Allure and its owner illegally inflated online ratings through platforms like Yelp and Google by intimidating patients into removing negative reviews and ordering employees to post fake positive reviews.

Ferguson claims that between Aug. 15, 2017, and Mar. 24, 2022, the clinic used a nondisclosure agreement to prevent over 10,000 patients from posting honest reviews of their plastic and cosmetic surgery experiences. One version of an NDA from that period, Ferguson wrote, required patients to agree that if they left a negative review, the clinic could reveal their personal health information when responding to the review in violation of HIPAA.

“When patients posted negative reviews despite the pre-service NDA, Defendants contacted them and used the pre-service NDA—and the threat, or implied threat, of taking legal action to enforce it—to coerce them into taking down the negative reviews,” wrote Ferguson.

Beginning in 2017, the clinic allegedly began offering patients cash, free services or free products “to make things right” in lieu of a bad review but then required patients to sign a post-service NDA to receive the payment — a condition not previously disclosed, Ferguson noted.

Allure currently holds 4.9 stars from 749 Google reviews, while Sajan personally holds 4.5 stars on Yelp out of 109 reviews. There are some negative reviews on Yelp, though.

One review, for example, highlighted Allure’s nondisclosure practices last year, where Yelp user “Krystal S.” wrote: “This company only has a 4.9 rating because they force you to sign a non-disclosure form (a form stating you legally cannot leave a bad review) prior to being seen. I had an appointment today and was turned away very rudely because I refused to sign this form before speaking to the doctor. I simply wanted to understand their need for such a form from the doctor’s perspective as no other plastic surgery office I've been to requires such a form…”

Ferguson outlined several other ways Allure and its owner mislead patients and the public through “unlawful, unfair and deceptive practices.” Examples included “creating fake positive reviews on Google, Yelp and other review sites using fake email accounts and fictional online personas” and buying “tens of thousands” of fake followers and likes on social media platforms like Instagram, where Sajan has a notable following under the handle @RealDrSeattle.

Additionally, Ferguson claims the clinic and Sajan made deceptive digital alterations to “before and after” photos on Instagram and other online platforms to enhance cosmetic and surgical results. The lawsuit cites several past employees who testified that Sajan would have them or a web designer alter patient post-procedure photos to hide scarring, make body parts look more symmetrical or, depending on the surgery, enhance the procedure’s results.

“One former employee, a videographer, said she quit her job at Allure because she ‘felt it was unethical and deceptive to alter photos to that extent, especially knowing that most consumers rely on before and after photos when choosing a surgeon for cosmetic surgery,’” wrote Ferguson.

Today, Allure’s website provides a disclaimer stating that “photographs may have been modified from their original version” and “enhanced.” However, Ferguson outlines that archives show that the clinic did not disclose this until sometime between late 2019 and early 2020 after Allure received a legal complaint from a former web designer detailing its practice of using altered images for advertising.

Lastly, Ferguson claims the clinic applied for rebates through Galderma, a skincare company, on behalf of patients without their consent and pocketed the rebates.

“A former assistant to Allure Esthetic’s COO and to Dr. Sajan was directed by the COO to create Galderma rewards accounts using the VPN HideMyAss! and a USB purchased by Defendants that contained hundreds of fabricated email accounts. The USB was kept locked in the COO’s desk,” wrote Ferguson, adding that the clinic created Galderma rewards accounts using real patient names and birthdates, claiming thousands of dollars every month.

According to the attorney general’s press release, the lawsuit follows four complaints from patients regarding Allure’s practices over the years. One was from a Seattle woman that accompanied a family member to a consultation for gender-affirming care who was “greatly troubled by the practice of forcing patients to sign an NDA before they even see the doctor,” according to Ferguson.

Representatives of Allure declined to comment for this story.

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