Nearly nine out of 10 consumers make their purchasing decisions based on online reviews, according to the Better Business Bureau, and while most of us rely on them to help us decide where to eat or what to buy, how much can we trust them?
An Inside Edition investigation has found plenty of people online willing to pose as doctors, lawyers and other professionals to peddle products or businesses.
One woman we found online hawking a thermometer claimed to be a doctor, identifying herself as Dr. Lisa Marie.
But in another ad she goes by the name Dr. Lisa Meyers. So which one is it?
It’s actually neither. She’s not a real doctor at all. We also found her posing as attorney Rebecca Lynch, and using other identities like Nancy Spencer and Jody Webster.
But her real name is Lisa Bitting and she appears in video testimonials for just about any product or business willing to pay her.
Inside Edition posed as a representative of a fictitious college and hired her to pose as the dean. We called it Faber College, which as you may recall, is the fictional college in the comedy classic, Animal House.
“Hi, I’m Dean Verna Wormer and I’d like to talk to you about all the exciting opportunities at Faber,” she said.
She read the script Inside Edition sent her, word-for-word.
“Send in your application. Faber College: Where knowledge is good,” she proclaimed in the ad.
"Where knowledge is good” is a slogan we lifted straight from the movie.
In real life, Bitting lives in Akron, Pa. She's a mom who teaches martial arts with her husband, John.
When Inside Edition tried to talk to her, her husband told us she had no comment.
“She is not interested at all,” her husband said.
We found plenty of other people posing as professionals offering online testimonials.
One, a so-called doctor, endorsed a product called Soberon that claims to cure hangovers.
“Hi, my name is Dr. Frank Johnson and I’m a registered medical practitioner,” he says in the ad. “I want to introduce you to Soberon, a new revolutionary anti-hangover medicine that actually works”
But he doesn't just play a doctor; Inside Edition sent him a script to promote a law firm that was also totally made up. For $150, he read every word.
“I'm personal injury attorney Larry Schlemiel, partner and co-founder of Schlemiel, Schlimazel, Hasenpfeffer, Inc.,” he read. “Give us any chance, we'll take it. We're gonna make your dreams come true. Doing it our way."
Recognize those names? They come from the Laverne & Shirley theme song.
Mr. Schlemiel's real name is Bob Francis and he's from Spokane, Wash.
When Inside Edition caught up with him, he didn't have much to say.
“I’d like to ask you about those online reviews and testimonials you’ve been doing. Do you actually use those products and services that you claim to in the videos?” asked Inside Edition Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero.
“No comment,” he replied.
“Are you actually a doctor or a lawyer?” Guerrero asked.
“No comment,” he said again.
“Are you just a liar for hire?” Guerrero retorted.
“I’m an actor,” he responded as he walked away.
Mr. Francis later told us that he didn't know what he did was wrong and will no longer do scripted reviews or testimonials.
Inside Edition found both Francis and Bitting on the website Fiverr, a popular online marketplace where you can hire spokespersons for video testimonials.
Fiverr has a disclaimer on their site, stating: “Sellers in this category are actors. The testimonials they provide on your behalf are paid, promotional materials, and you should indicate this to your customers.”
The site told Inside Edition what we found violates their terms of service and when they get a complaint, they investigate and address it promptly.