Shoplifting Kickstarter


Caveat: I love Kickstarter. Over the past year, my little publishing house, Popcorn Press, has had five successful campaigns with them. We plan more in the future. And we’ve backed over a hundred. That said, they still have some growing pains.

Last year, in response to bad press about some high-income projects not delivering (or delivering way late), Kickstarter issued the famous “Kickstarter Is Not a Store” message. The point was that creators are responsible for delivering on their own promises. That message was the public-facing response. The creator-facing response added a checkbox to the project launch process, saying creators are responsible for repaying backers on undelivered product.

Problem solved, right?

Enter a new problem: This year, many creators are finishing projects and delivering the goods, only to have a backer dispute the charge with Amazon and get a full refund after the fact. Kickstarter recently barred the Encik Farhan account, for example, after scores of project creators were abused—often for thousands of dollars.

My own Clashing Blades! project was hit by a $1,100 pledge. Fortunately, I hadn’t already committed all that cash. Still, it cost in that (1) Kickstarter already took its $55, (2) the Amazon chargeback was for $1,102.19, and (3) the pledge had pushed the project to a stretch goal that I’m now paying for out of pocket. Total cost: about $225 lost of $2,236 income. A 10 percent cut.

And I got off lucky at that. Another project team alerted me to the problem before I actually spent the pledge on extra art and shipped the backer’s 20 games to Malaysia. That team—and many like them—had already been robbed before Kickstarter became aware of the problem and canceled this account.

Stopping one thief doesn’t fix things, though. In a system where Kickstarter keeps its cut no matter what, where Amazon charges back slightly more than the actual debit, and where supposedly funded stretch goals are left hanging in the wind, a Kickstarter creator has to build in some extra leeway. And that hurts everyone—except the thief, of course, who is sitting somewhere in Malaysia with a roomful of stolen property and nothing much to prevent creating a new, bogus account with which to rob again.

Photo by Fort Meade

9 thoughts on “Shoplifting Kickstarter

  • November 28, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Please don’t switch to indie gogo. They use Paypal for funding. You will still have the same issues with theft and in addition Paypal has repeatedly frozen funds for producers for very long periods. In one case they required them to provide Paypal with their business plan and regularly report goals before they would give them the money. Paypal is not your friend.

  • November 24, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Here’s a more professional write-up, by Jacob Kastrenakes, on The Verge:

    “Alleged Kickstarter scammer targets over 100 projects with fraudulent pledges”

  • November 24, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    I’ve heard of issues like this happening with Paypal in the past. A friend was selling a product online, people would receive the product and then similarly file the chargeback. What he was selling was digital downloads of content, what makes this so terrible for Kickstarter content creators is that they’re often creating tangible product with heavy production costs that are then being yanked back by these so-called “backers”. I certainly get consumer protection, but any vendor that’s not doing right by their supporters/customers won’t be around very long. Whereas the scammer “customer” has anonymity to hide behind.

  • November 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    It’s definitely making me consider switching to Indiegogo, whose “Flexible Funding” plan is looking ever more appealing for the sort of projects Popcorn Press does.

  • November 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    This will have catastrophic effects on my planned Kickstarter RPG books. We already ride the goals as low as we can in the planning stages (for the obvious reasons of being sure we can provide a product to our backers). With the risk of losing several thousands of dollars after we’ve committed to a product… Gorram. That could put us out of business on our first production.

  • November 24, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Hi, Ben. Yes, in many cases the scammer received the product and then filed a chargeback, getting a refund as well.

  • November 24, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Wow. That’s a lot to take in that people would steal like this. Guess all of my first project kickstarter stuff will remain America only. Sad sad stuff indeed.

  • November 24, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Am I understanding this correctly? The crooked backer gets both the product and their money back afterwards? This is very disheartening…

  • November 23, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    This totally sucks. Thanks for the heads-up!

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