Escape Authority exists to further this genre which we all love. Our long-standing passion for everything underneath the attractions industry umbrella has created a loyal respect for guest service, and instilled a firm belief in the importance of integrity and morality as keys to running a successful business in the hospitality world. For some time now, behind the scenes we’ve been following a building story in the Southern California market, and unfortunately what we saw today was the straw which broke the proverbial camel’s back, and we can no longer sit by idly in silence.
You may recall on August 13, 2017, we spoke up against a posting publicly made by Brainy Actz to their official business Facebook page. In it, a video was included making fun of their paying guests for exercising their First Amendment right of freedom of speech to express their valid, consistent opinions on the quality of product and service they received for which they spent their hard-earned money. The Brainy Actz team acted, in effect, as a group of bullies, cracking jokes at the expense of those paying guests in what we can only assume was a failed attempt at deflecting the valid criticisms they presented. What resulted, unfortunate for them, was shining a spotlight as bright as the sun on their corporate weaknesses, including poor quality set design and sub-par puzzles – all consistent complaints from each unrelated Yelp review that was presented.
We reached out to Brainy Actz’s management in an official capacity to express our disappointment in the way they choose to react to their paying guests and urged them to remove the video immediately, as well as apologize to those guests impacted. When the video was taken down the next day, we had thought (hoped?) that the situation may have been rectified professionally and appropriately.
Shortly thereafter, we began to receive emails from several different parties who asked to remain anonymous, providing what they presented as being proof that Brainy Actz – or perhaps a third party marketing firm engaged by Brainy Actz – was counter-balancing honest negative reviews for their product with fraudulent 5 star reviews posted by fake Yelp accounts. In each case, the accounts posting their praise of the Brainy Actz product were created within hours – if even that long – of posting the review itself. A solid pattern was established with these questionable accounts appearing hours after Brainy Actz received any negative review from an actual Yelp member. Our sources provided us with several screen shots that document this pattern.
From there, in what we can only assume to be an effort to legitimize those fake accounts, profile photos were added to the next batch of them. Unfortunately for Brainy Actz or whomever may have acted on their behalf, Google’s reverse image search is an incredibly powerful tool that allows anyone, including our sources, to see exactly where a particular picture originated. The first few were Shutterstock stock images. From there, an image was taken from the official page of Steven Burda, a gentleman running for State Representative in Pennsylvania. Now, Mr. Burda apparently goes by the name of “Craig Taylor,” and he is apparently Brainy Actz #1 fan, reviewing them both on Yelp and Facebook.
This pattern continued, and unfortunately took an even more immoral turn on September 30, 2017. On this day, Brainy Actz received another glowingly 5 star Yelp review, this time from “Donald G.” of Irvine, California. Except “Donald G.’s” real name was John Terrill – and I say was, because his profile photo used for the review came from an online obituary announcing his death in Louisville, KY way back on August 1, 2015. Needless to say, this was a bit shocking to us when the screenshots were presented by one of our sources, and we truly thought things could not stoop any lower.
Now, however, another overwhelmingly positive 5 star Yelp review for Brainy Actz has surfaced, and it was so far passed the line that we, Escape Authority, can no longer sit by quietly and allow this to continue.
On October 6, 2017 Brainy Actz received a 5 star Yelp review from Kevin B. of Apopka, Florida. In it, he excitedly professed how he “finally had some time to check out an escape room” and that he “ended up loving it so much that we did another experience right after.”
This one had us feeling more furious than we’d been in recent memory – and honestly somewhat sick to our stomachs. Because for this one, no research was needed of the name or reverse image search of the photo to find out just why “Kevin B.” had been so busy that he couldn’t find time to play an escape room. That’s because on June 12, 2016, “Kevin B.,” – real name Luis Sergio Veilma was among the 49 innocent victims murdered in cold blood at the Pulse Night Club terror attack in Orlando, FL.
The photo used in his review was, again, the one used in his online obituary.
While we may never know if these posts are being made *by* Brainy Actz, or by a third party marketing firm, there is simply no question that they are being made on Brainy Actz’s behalf. They pop up conveniently right after the venue gets a negative review – which, based on the quality of their product, is fairly frequently. This marketing practice is beyond disgusting. It’s beyond deplorable. Simply put, it’s deeply offensive on a very personal level.
We had thought it was bad enough to say “What kind of a business openly and publicly makes fun of their paying guests for leaving a valid review?” Then we thought it was bad enough to say “What kind of a business creates or endorses the creation of fake accounts to counterbalance their valid negative reviews with instantaneous positive ones?” Then we thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse than asking “What kind of a business steals or endorses the stealing of photos from online obituaries to legitimize those fake reviews?”
But then they stole or endorsed the stealing of a photograph of an innocent 23-year-old kid who was murdered in one of the worst mass shootings in the history of our country. And for what? To validate why their sub-par venue is a little less sub-par?
I’m shocked. I’m disgusted. I’m disappointed. And more importantly I – nor Escape Authority – are willing to remain silent and simply allow this to continue.
It is certainly within your right spend your hard-earned money at any escape room venue you see fit. However, we implore you to take this information into account before selecting Brainy Actz. There are so many great venues in the Southern California market – each of them ones who truly appreciates, respects and values their guests. Brainy Actz has proven to us, in our widely traveled experience, that the only thing worse than the quality of their product is the quality of their character.
Beyond sharing this here on Escape Authority, we will also be cross-posting it to several Enthusiast and Owner groups, as well as speaking directly with Yelp to make them aware of just what is going on through their site. We will also be reaching out to Steven Burda and the families of those who had their images stolen and utterly disrespected from the sanctity of their obituaries.