There is a disturbing trend that began a couple of years ago wherein a person will create a therapist directory website, give it a name that sounds professional and clinical, and rather that reach out to clinicians to sell them space on the website, instead, they will go to a legitimate therapist directory (for example Psychology Today or Good Therapy) and "pirate" therapists profiles and photographs from those legitimate paid therapist directory sites, then place the stolen photographs and profiles on their own new therapist directory site without the knowledge or permission of the therapist.
Protect Yourself from SCAMS
The next step in this illegal activity usually involves contacting the clinician via email to let them know that their "fake" profile listing is getting ready to expire and that they will want to "click here (link) in order to re-new your profile listing." If the therapist has several paid legitimate directory sites, and/or is new to the field, and/or is having an exceptionally busy week, they may be duped into thinking that they must renew.
In these cases, the therapist will then click the link, and pay the fee, and thus they have been unwittingly scammed. Sadly, potential therapy clients searching the Internet for a therapist may not realize that the website has pirated therapists images and profiles when doing a google search for a therapist.
The other bait and switch tactic is this: The false directory company will not alert the therapist and instead secretly adds their pirated profile to their website. They then assign information that is not correct, such as a specialization, a particular degree or license, or a lower fee. The website then advertises this therapist to the public (public meaning potential therapy clients looking to work with a therapist on line). The false implication is that the therapists on their directory have signed up for paid profiles on the website and that the client can contact the therapist if they then pay the website a membership fee.
How to Respond to a SCAM like this
This has happened to me two times in the last three years. The first tactic was used very recently where the website sent me an email stating that my link had expired. I have only one paid therapist directory that I am a part of, so I knew this was a scam.
Here is a transcript of that email conversation:
The subject line read: "Re: Mari A. Lee Therapist Renewal Required" (please note the "Re:")
And the email body read:
"Dear Mari A. Lee,
Your professional directory listing has expired. To activate your listing click the link below. Please act right away to continue receiving referrals." (With a button to renew.)
As I had not signed up for this directory, imagine my surprise in finding my image and all of my clinical information on their site. My response:
"Who set this up? I did not sign up for this. And that photo is very new, so I am wondering who did this?"
We set this up for you. Let us know if you would like to activate your listing on our new App and directory for therapists.
"Why would you set this up without my permission to do so, and then send an email that indicates that my account needs to be "re-activated" and paid for when I did not sign up for this?"
Our apologies, we are deleting your listing.
As member of CAMFT, we thought this would be helpful to your practice."
"Whether it is helpful or not, no matter if I am a member of CAMFT or not, adding a clinician without their knowledge is unethical. Is CAMFT aware of this?"
I have since emailed two more times in the last 6 days asking for a response and, as they are not answering, I will be reporting this company.
You Are Not Alone
After posting this warning on my personal and professional Facebook pages, I found that other colleagues have been targeted by this scam as well. These colleagues shared that they had received the same email (renew your profile), and then soon after, received an email stating there had been a "mistake" by the company who "accidentally" sent all of their therapist profiles an email that they needed to renew their listing (side note: remember, these therapists who shared this with me had not signed up with this website either). They then followed up with a "free month" and a phone call.
It doesn't take much detective work to connect the dots, and it is not surprising to learn that their back peddling began once I (and other therapists) began challenging this website who had pirated our information. Likely they had an "Oh Crap!" moment, and then frantically began to scramble to cover their ass, attempting to hide their unethical behavior with more half truths and outright lies.
Friends and colleagues, there is no excuse for a company who pirates therapists images and information, creates a directory website from that stolen information without permission, then attempts to sell that fake listing back tothe therapist they ripped off in the first place, as well as market the therapist via their website to the public in order to appear to be a legit therapist directory to patients in need of clinical support.
Your photographs and personal/professional information is your property. No company has a right to use your image or information without your written permission. This is illegal.
Additionally, it is important to remember that we therapists are held legally and ethically responsible for how we market ourselves and who we align ourselves with in therms of our marketing. We have a right and a responsiblity to do our due diligence in first researching the company/directory to make sure they are a company that one would want to align with.
Stealing therapists images and information so that the company and website appears to have many therapists for patients to choose from is not only dishonest, it is a disgusting trend. This is certainly not an organization I would ever choose to align myself with.
And, I feel deep compassion for the therapy clients who are being duped by this as well.
Important Steps to Take
I will be reporting this company as it is a violation of law and ethics. I hope you will protect yourselves as well.
Additionally, this is the worst kind of manipulation of healers and takes advantage of a vulnerable population of people seeking therapy.
You can google your name to see if you appear on these kinds of directories, or you can set up google alerts by doing this:
Google Alerts is a free tool that allows you to keep track of your name, your company name, and keywords and phrases. The cool thing is you don't need to have a Gmail account to set this up (though Gmail is the popular choice now, so this may be a good time to set this up):
How do I set up Google Alerts?
Setting up Google Alerts is a simple process that I outline below as a support:
- First things first, sign in to your Gmail account. However, if you do not have Gmail, that's OK, you can still fill out the form.
- Next you will want to add any of the terms you will want to be alerted to. That might be your name, company or blog, or phrases, your book, etc. You can even add words that are often used within your particular clinical niche.
- Click on the the type of results you want to be alerted to. I would suggest selecting track all.
- Set the frequency of when you receive the alerts. This could be daily, weekly or monthly.
- Decide how often and how many and where you want the the Google Alerts delivered. I receive my own via my Gmail. But again, you can add a different email if not on google.
In closing, I hope this information helps you stay informed and protected. If this should happen to you, please do not hesitate to do your research and double check the legitimacy of the person or organization contacting you. Ask that they provide proof that you signed up for their directory (i.e. credit card receipt, signed waiver, etc). If you find this is a scam, take the important steps in reporting the company and requesting in writing that they remove you. Then save that information in case you need to refer back to it at a future date.
It is unfortunate that there are people in our world who choose to prey upon the good nature of therapeutic healers and the clients we serve. However, it is better to be informed and then to take wise steps if this should happen to you.
Kindly and in support,