A chiropractor who ran a deceptive online marketing campaign designed to lure vulnerable cancer patients to his practice with false promises of cure has been banned from practice for two years.
Hance Limboro was found to have engaged in deceptive conduct by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal over an “affiliate marketing campaign” he commissioned, which was designed to direct vulnerable people searching for web information on cancer cures to the website of his Sydney clinic.
The case related to a series of articles posted on the “cancercuresydney.com.au” website with titles such as ‘Chiropractic Treatment as A Cancer Cure’. The articles made specific claims such as: “by having regular chiropractic treatment, you can slowly but sure (sic) cured from your cancer”.
Other articles claimed that chiropractic treatment could prevent cancer and reduce the side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, the tribunal heard.
In 2017, Mr Limboro pleaded guilty in Sydney court to 11 counts of falsely advertising a regulated health service and was fined $29,500, relating to the claims made on the website.
Yet in his evidence to the tribunal the chiropractor tried to deny responsibility for the articles, claiming he had not written them, nor seen them until a notification from AHPRA.
Rather, the articles were part of an “affiliate marketing campaign” he had commissioned from an overseas consultant named ‘Dwijat’ who he hired to improve the search ranking of the website for Action Health Centre, the practice where he worked as a chiropractor.
The idea was to develop a list of websites and terms with a high searchability profile then register them as domain names and build content around them to draw clients to the sites. These sites would then direct the visitor to Mr Limboro’s clinic through a link offering a free spinal check, the tribunal was told.
Other websites registered by Mr Limboro included autismcure.com.au and naturalcancercure.com.au.
Mr Limboro argued that the site names would not necessarily paint an unrealistic view to the public, claiming “just because the name says that doesn’t mean that’s what it’s going to be” and he did not believe any patient had come to him through the cancercuresydney.com.au site.
He also claimed he never told patients he could cure cancer, and all of his patients signed a disclaimer so they understood the limits of the treatment he offered.
But the tribunal rejected Mr Limboro’s arguments, instead finding him an “active participant in a calculated scheme to cast a wide net of false and misleading website names, keywords and content intended to capture the traffic of those searching for health information and assistance concerning cancer and then divert them to his business”.
“This scheme of misrepresentation was designed in a targeted manner to attract the attention of a select group of potential patients; those experiencing cancer who were searching for cancer treatment information, including through the use of the search term ‘cure’.
Further, at no point did Mr Limboro take active steps to ensure that the multiple websites he had registered and maintained control of complied with his legal and professional obligations as a health practitioner, the tribunal found.
“These offences are not mere technicalities nor are they victimless….practitioners who engage in misleading and deceptive conduct cannot be permitted to avoid professional accountability by hiding behind legal veils, such as those that disguise ownership of their enterprises or those that present blanket disclaimers as treatment consent documentation.”
Mr Limboro will be eligible to apply to AHPRA for review after two years.