PORTLAND, Ore. – Internal emails and revelations from former employees show a campaign by Forever Young to create a fake image online through fake positive reviews posted by employees.
The local laser spa chain shut down two weeks ago. The tricks and lies it used to pull in millions of dollars brought about dozens of customer complaints and a full-blown investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice.
For former customers like Beverly Olivier, who is not far from retirement after 40 years of working for medical and dental labs in Portland, a visit to Forever Young would have been a special treat, she thought.
She wanted to get rid of what she calls the "fuzzy white hair" on her face.
On Forever Young's website (and salespeople) it promised results and permanent hair loss.
Beverly paid $600 and showed up for her first appointment.
"When I got there the first thing she told me is it won't do anything for white fuzzy hair," Beverly said, adding that she was also told it wouldn't be permanent.
Former employees like "Jessica," who didn't want to reveal her real name for this story, confirmed that, saying co-workers routinely lied about laser treatments and sometimes used dishonest sales pitches from managers.
"I felt like a lot of the information was misleading, just completely misleading," Jessica said.
Once the company got customers' money, customers and employees say it would not loosen its grip.
For example, Forever Young told Beverly the laser for her treatments was out for calibration for months.
But Forever Young refused to refund her money even though there was no way for her to get the service she paid for.
Jessica was moved from sales to the corporate office in Beaverton supposedly to work in customer service.
She says she was told to lie about the office location to the hundreds of unhappy customers calling in.
"We were having to tell people that we were in Prineville," said Jessica. "We were right in Beaverton next to the Beaverton location."
There she saw the company often refuse to give refunds until customers complained to the Better Business Bureau or hired an attorney. Customers called in and said they blocked Forever Young from charging their accounts, but the company got around the block and charged their other accounts without authorization.
"It was just out of control. No one would listen," Jessica said.
Online, however, there was a different story. For every complaint about Forever Young there was a glowing review or rebuttal.
A whistleblower gave KATU internal emails from Forever Young showing how the people running the company, Ron and Jennifer Zemp, told employees to post fake reviews.
"We will pay you a commission of $2 for every positive review you post as long as the reviews are approved by Ron or Jenn," read one email.
Ron Zemp put the instructions into employees' job descriptions and Jennifer Zemp chided employees if they did not post the fake reviews.
"I have not seen any reviews come in from you and I also heard you refuse to do this," read another email.
"There was a lot of misleading things about that company," said Jessica.
"I feel like they're stealing from me and stealing from the other customers," Beverly said.
Jessica says she was fired from Forever Young not long before the company closed. Now she believes she understands the company's strategy, which was always pushing customers to pay up front.
"They didn't care about future money," Jessica said. "They wanted it now. And now that makes perfect sense why they wanted it. They must have known."
From the emails and from what the former employees told KATU, there was a campaign to monitor and manipulate the Better Business Bureau rating and to respond to complaints in a way to keep the company in the positive but not necessarily resolve the customer issues.
In a statement to KATU, Ron Zemp of Forever Young said, "We would not have had 50,000 clients over the years if our sales tactics were based on lies. Our employees were instructed to give realistic goals to the clients and to not over promise. We had a large business that grew very quickly. No business of Forever Young's size can fully control all employee actions."
Ron Zemp also said Forever Young will be paying employees' last paychecks after all. Earlier, the company said it would not, which would have meant taxpayers would have picked up the tab because of a state program to help employees when their place of employment suddenly shuts down.
If there is an issue you think the KATU Problem Solvers can help with, contact them. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call 503-736- 3415.
Past stories on Forever Young and laser spas:
- Taxpayers on the hook for final pay for Forever Young employees
- Forever Young says it has bailout plan for customers
- 'Forever Young' spa closes shop; had been subject of state investigation
- State investigating 'Forever Young' medical spa
- Insider alleges workers not properly trained at laser spa
- State looking to review regulation of laser use in medical spas
- Laser beauty treatment: Can you trust the person holding the laser?