Online Therapy Scam Uncovered: Hundreds Fooled by Untrained Impostor

Unmasking the Deceit

In recent news, hundreds of people across America seeking online therapy may have been tricked into receiving treatment from an untrained impersonator. This suspected imposter reportedly pretended to be a licensed online therapist over an alarming timeframe of up to two years. The truth came out only after she passed away. Details obtained from state health department records reveal the extent of this shocking exploit.

Who Was the Fake Therapist?

The alleged imposter was helped by Peggy A. Randolph, a legally licensed social worker in Florida and Tennessee, and a former Brightside Health employee. Brightside Health is a prominent online therapy service provider that serves audiences throughout the country. According to a report from the Florida Department of Health, Randolph allegedly aided her wife in impersonating her during online therapy sessions.

An Unveiling Investigation

The duo allegedly carried out this fraudulent scheme with a calculated approach, exploiting unsuspecting telehealth patients. While Randolph attended to patients in-person, her wife posed as her in video sessions. This deceit was uncovered only after the imposter’s death last year when a patient recognized they had been interacting with the wrong person. This information was uncovered in a settlement agreement with the Tennessee Department of Health.

The Mastermind and Accomplice

The records from both states only revealed the initials T.R. for Randolph’s wife. However, her full obituary presented her full name – Tammy G. Heath-Randolph. Unlike professional therapists, who usually hold at least a master’s degree, Heath-Randolph was untrained and unlicensed in providing counseling services, according to the agreement with Tennessee Health Department.

Denial and Compensation

Randolph is said to have denied knowing her wife used her official Brightside Health Therapist Portal credentials or met clients under her account. Nevertheless, the agreement maintains that she received payment for the sessions her wife conducted. This deceitful act was recently uncovered and is just beginning to come under scrutiny.

How Many Were Scammed?

The Tennessee settlement showed that while Randolph was supposed to offer online therapy for hundreds of clients from January 2021 to February 2023, it was actually Heath-Randolph handling all of her patients, a shocking truth revealed by an internal investigation conducted by Brightside Health. Ms. Randolph decided not to comment on the issue when approached.

The Surrender of License and Its Aftermath

Both Florida and Tennessee records mention that Randolph voluntarily gave up her social work licenses in both states. Consequently, the health departments ceased their investigations, which resulted limitingly in the public accessibility to detail and document related to the case. The report from Brightside Health’s internal investigation has not yet been made public.

Brightside Health’s Reaction

Brightside Health, headquartered in San Francisco, offers nationwide online psychiatry and therapy sessions. The company has remained tight-lipped about the incident. However, Hannah Changi, a company spokesperson, emailed that since learning about these allegations, Brightside conducted an audit, ended Randolph’s employment, and reported her to the licensing authorities. While the company declined to disclose the number of patients who were seen by Heath-Randolph due to ongoing legal proceedings, they have notified and refunded all potentially impacted patients.

The Breach of Trust

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, due to the breach, an unauthorized individual accessed private medical information of 767 people, including Social Security numbers and diagnoses. The matter now takes a serious turn as neither the Florida nor Tennessee health officials are willing to comment on the case.

Keeping Dignity Intact

Randolph surrendering her license led to a discontinuation of a full investigation by the Florida Department of Health, according to Jae Williams, its spokesperson. This move allowed Randolph to maintain some dignity while having the same effect as the state revoking her license.

In closing, while this specific case has thrown light on a serious concern, it also underscores the importance for patients to verify the credentials of their therapists and psychologists, especially when services are provided online.

Source: KFF Health News


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