Cosmetic perjury: Botox bandits on the rise, hurting industry
Dr. Anthony Youn, a board certified plastic surgeon based in Michigan, said a woman in her 50s came in for the first time last month for some Botox. When it came time for him to cash the personal check she used to pay for the injections, it bounced.
"When we contacted her, she claimed that her checking account was hijacked and shut down by the bank," he said. "Subsequent calls [requesting payment] via a credit card or other method have been unreturned. We are now seeking legal means to pay the $350 tab."
Another trick of Botox bandits: claim that you're running out to get your wallet. That's what happened with Dr. Andrew Jacono, who practices in New York City and Long Island, N.Y. He made time out of his busy schedule for a first-time female patient with no appointment and injected her with $1,350 worth of Botox and Juvederm. When it was time to settle the bill, she claimed she left her wallet in her car. "The next thing we knew, she peeled out of the parking lot never to return," said the board certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon.
Dr. Daniel Mills of Southern California has been hit three times, twice by regular clients, costing him a total of $3,000. One of the patients had so many aliases that it was impossible to track him down. Before that, Mills had only one such incident nearly 15 years ago.
The board certified plastic surgeon blames the bad behavior on the economy. "People still want to have things done" but can't afford it anymore, Mills said.
Dr. Payman Simoni of Beverly Hills agreed, adding, "High-end plastic surgery practices were caught off guard, since they had only dealt with clients where money was no object. We've had a huge trail of bounced checks since the economy took a downturn and others disputing their credit card charges with innovative excuses."
The worst cases, said Simoni, a board certified facial plastic surgeon, have been where a few patients threatened to post negative comments on social and chat websites if their money wasn't refunded. "In one instance, a scam artist requested $100,000 or she threatened to ruin our reputation online," he explained. "We soon found out that we were not the only victims of her scam and that she had also done this to a handful of other plastic surgeons."
"Online extortion has become an important expenditure for plastic surgeons," Simoni added.
To protect himself, Mills says he photocopies a patient's driver's license in order to have the right address on file. Then just as he injects the Botox, his front office charges the credit card. Dr. Joseph Brad O'Connell of Westport, Conn., is also photocopying driver's licenses should he ever need to turn to the police for help. O'Connell, the spokesperson for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, said he is also thinking about signing up for a check verifying service after two checks bounced, one for about $2,800.
Still others are requiring patients prepay for the procedures.
Perhaps the biggest deterrent could be jail. Cosmetic surgery bandit Jamie Merk of Tampa, Fla., was charged with grand theft and jailed in September 2009. Kelli Thomas of Port St. Lucie, Fla., was also charged with grand theft and received 18 months probation. In addition, she was ordered to pay restitution and court costs.