Whilst there are a number of aspects to Kickstarter which may not sit well with people, at the very least most of the people contributing and pledging are doing so for the best of reasons – they want to reward, fund, and spread creative projects. But a new string of reports have emerged over the last few days, suggesting that scammers are beginning to target the site.
Rather than a campaign which acts as a scam, however, it appears this is a pledger causing the trouble. The basic of this case is that the pledger funds a project at the highest level possible – only to then claim a charge dispute once the project is funded.
This can cause massive problems, especially if a campaign has only JUST made the funding level. It also appears that this particular pledger has done this over a hundred times – making it very surprising that Kickstarter haven’t spotted it.
I reached out to Alex Heberling, an artist whose project The Hues found Kickstarter success earlier this year. She’s been a victim of this pledger, named as Encik Farhan, and it may cost her $1000 from her project total.
UPDATE – Just prior to this post going online, Kickstarter have deleted the profile for Farhan. So at the least, the pledger will struggle to get anything else past Kickstarter for the time being.
Steve: What happened to alert you to this scam, Alex?
Alex: My campaign ended in August, so I was merrily plugging away at fulfilling the rewards; the main goal of my Kickstarter was to produce the next chapter of my webcomic and offer it to backers in eBook format. I started shipping the physical rewards in early October, and on the 11th, I got an email from Amazon Payments informing me that a charge dispute had been filed for $1,000. I’d only had one backer who pledged that much, so it wasn’t hard to figure out who it was.
Steve: What does a charge dispute mean, exactly?
Alex: As far as I have gathered, this guy backs a project for a very high dollar amount, hundreds or thousands of dollars, and waits for the physical rewards to ship before filing a charge dispute with his credit card provider. In my case, my project had already cleared the funding goal before he pledged, so I would have been fine without him, but there are other creators for whom that was not the case.
Steve: Did you get to speak to any other creators who had experienced the same?
Alex: I was contacted by another Kickstarter creative team, Anarchy Enterprises, regarding this backer a few days ago, which confirmed my suspicion that there was something seriously off about him. After receiving the chargeback notice, I took a closer look and saw a whole lot of discrepancies between his profile, his survey response, and so forth. When I told the Anarchy Enterprises guys what happened to me, they wrote back with a long list of comments from dozens of other project creators, all saying the same thing had happened to them, too.
Steve: Have Kickstarter responded to your complaint? How has their response been?
Alex: I first contacted Kickstarter about this last month, when I got the charge dispute email, and I asked them for help on how to best appeal the dispute, but I didn’t get a whole lot of advice, just a suggestion to check out Amazon Payments’ FAQ on the subject. Once I got in touch with the other creators, however, I sent them a follow-up, letting them know that I wasn’t the only one. I forwarded my correspondence with Anarchy Enterprises, and got to posting on my social media outlets while I waited for a response.
Later the same day, they let me know that they’ve forwarded the issue to their Trust and Safety team for further investigation, so I hope we get an official response about this in the near future. Kickstarter and Amazon need to develop a policy on this sort of situation, because creators have no protection against this kind of thing. It’s not like we can stop a backer from pledging, fraudulent or otherwise, and there’s no way to report a user for this kind of behavior from their profile.
Steve: What does this sort of scam potentially mean for your project?
Alex: It’s thankfully not going to affect the project itself too much as this stage, as all the physical rewards have already gone out, and I’m just working on finishing up the actual comic now. Part of the campaign, though, was to enable me to work on my comic full-time while I did so, and losing that much money, in my position, is a huge deal.
I live a very austere lifestyle, with most of my time spent working on my comic, and that money is all I’ve got to pay my bills and rent through the end of the year. I have the enormous privilege of having a great support network of family and friends should the credit card company rule in the backer’s favor, so while it may sting for awhile, I’m ultimately going to be okay. Not all the creators this guy has scammed have been so lucky, though.
Many thanks to Alex for taking the time to talk to me about this problem. If you’d like to find out more about her work, then you can find her site here, and her webcomic The Hues, on which the Kickstarter was based, is here.
I’ll be looking into it further, to see if any more light can be shed. If you have a similar experience you’d like to share, please leave me a message in the comments.