art by Farel Dalrymple

Yesterday we wrote about “kicktrolling”, or Kickstarter backers bidding at high amounts only to then withdraw the bids as the campaign seemed near completion. It’s a practice that seems purely mischief driven, but it also seems it is becoming more widespread. Chris Stevens and Andrew Carl of Locust Moon Comics in Philadelphia posted on FB about a Kicktroller who hit their “Locust Man vs Monster” crowdfunder for a comics anthology. I’m piecing together the story from both their comments, but what happened is that someone pledged $2000 for their $600 campaign, which sent the campaign well over the goal—and set off warning bells. They reached out to the funder and Kickstarter to be certain but were told it was legit. However when it came time to collect, the funder disputed the amount. By then the money was already sitting in their Amazon account—where it remains, unable to be withdrawn.

There are a couple of real world consequences to this mischief or deliberate fraud or whatever it is. First off, Locust Moon still has to pay fees on the money since Amazon collected it “So as far as Kickstarter concerned, we received the money, and thus had to pay a percentage of it in fees. And for a small campaign like ours, that percentage of $2,000 wasn’t tiny,” Carl wrote.

In addition, because it looked like the campaign was well over goal, it was more difficult to get REAL backers.

Finally, because the campaign was funded at the stretch goals, they had to fulfill additional rewards—rewards which no one has paid for. “In our case, everyone whose money we actually received has or will have gotten what they were promised, stretch rewards included,” says Carl. “Even though the Kickstarter campaign itself didn’t actually raise the money we needed to pay for all of it. Our backers don’t need to suffer from this troll’s crap (that’s our job).”

According to Carl this same scammer has hit at least one other person’s campaign with a similar large amount and similar withdrawal. (We’ve reached out to hear that story as well.)

As we mentioned yesterday, with a lot of money changing hands via crowdfunding, it’s easy to see why people are messing with the structure for kicks or just to be total assholes. We’ve reached out to Kickstarter for comment as well.


  1. Does this happen in other KS categories or just comics? I guess the era of blue sky reward tiers might be coming to a close. Seems like a giant risk for an indie creator to have that financial target on their project.

    Kickstarter needs to address this and put in safeguards. The brand could be ruined if indie creators no longer trust the process.

  2. The commitment level of the Kicktroller is intense, they have to be willing to leave a multi-thousand dollar charge on their card during the dispute process. Who has the time to do this?

    It seems that Kickstarter is finally starting to be challenged, hopefully they will rise to the occasion, I’d hate to see all their good work undone.

  3. Crazy Conspiracy theory: perpetrators are a small band of desperate comic retailers and publishers who view crowdfunding as a threat to the entire direct market and their livelihoods. The gatekeepers are angry?

    Totally joking here.

  4. A couple partial solutions to this problem:
    1) KS should give the people running campaigns the option to decline specific donations. This only helps if they recognize or suspect a kicktroller at the time they sign up, but it would help in those cases … and why not? (Plus, I can imagine situations in which a creator might just not want to take money from a certain person.)
    2) Don’t include large reward levels. Dangling a huge chocolate-covered bacon-flavored hash-infused carrot in hopes of getting $1000 in one chunk is tempting, but it’s also trollbait. Granted, KS allows people to donate more than the specified reward levels, but #1 would address that.

  5. As a rule, I do not have large Kickstarter rewards offered because a % of the backers always seem to have card problems , new financial problems that arise ,or like this story, they back out, or they to not pay. I would say on average maybe 2 % this happens with. I try to work with people and Uunderstand their specific situations, but if we are having actual scammers, Kickstart should ban them…ar at the very least, put a watch list together for us so we know who to look for. Maybe not public, but just a heads up might help.

  6. Jason, I like your ideas, particularly #1.

    In our case, we didn’t even have any rewards higher than $70 – someone just made that one suspiciously “kind” donation anyway that screwed with us.
    (There was one other person who gave us more than $70 and actually asked for no reward, but he was a legitimate backer and great guy.)

  7. Yeah, I remember helping with a Kickstarter that had a large goal. We’d been working around the clock to make it, and we had just past our number, with a day to spare. Then a 20K backer pulled out and sent us back under our finish goal. Fortunately, one of out other big pledgers took pity on us and got us back over our goal, but it all left us saying, “WTF?!”

    There are a lot of battles that have to be fought with Kickstarter. There are those who pledge and think it entitles them to tell you what to do. Those who think they should get a better prize after the fact. Those who will complain about the finished product no matter what, and on and on and on. There are a lot of people who pledge who really are excited for what you’re doing, but there will also be people who just see it as a way to try and power trip on you. I still think that over all, it’s a good thing. It’s nice to know that people care enough about what you do to help. It may even say something about your project that some people will want to mess with you and trip you up. Those people are sad and deserve a little pity, themselves. However, Amazon should also find a way to hold them accountable.

  8. i do think kickstarter should have some kind of “report suspicious activity” button you can submit during a campaign as well as an ability to turn down a pledge. This is really serious stuff.

    Any other group or organization that relies on pledges can refuse them at their discretion and I think this should be no different. I don’t see why the campaign needs to be responsible for a pledge that flaked out. That seems like a built in scam machine.

    I have to wonder if KS views this problem as not so much of a big deal because they still get paid either way?

    I’m legitimately afraid to launch a kickstarter for my own comic work, because i couldn’t afford to to foot the bill if something like this happened to me.

  9. You know, something just occurred to me. If I were a smaller film studio of low morals, I might spend a lot of time on Kickstarter doing this. I’ve worked with a lot of them (not all of them are bad, mind you) and they’re always trying to wrack up their IP count, which is logical, but if your an a hole, here’s one way they might do that. You go on Kickstarter and look for cool projects. You find one you like and you think you could get funding for, then make sure it fails. Then you take their idea and rework it a bit, so you can shop it around for said funding. There are a lot of movie “producers” out there that don’t give a crap if a film actually gets made, as long as their getting paid during the development process. If the movie never happens, their investors can’t go after any money, because it’s gone, and the “producer” never has to worry about copyright claims, because the film never got out into the public eye. Makes perfect sense.

  10. @ Chirstopher Moonlight – I agree. In fact, there should be a way that Kickstarter can verify *real* supporters by having them go through even higher / more accountable channels than the regular donation process. They might even go as far as giving specific users *verification* badges so when someone does donate it shows they are serious. A bit like how some celebrities on Twitter have verified accounts.

    Or make the money non-returnable when it clocks over 1K. I dunno… I’m sure there are pros and cons to every angle, but it would be nice for Kickstarter to at least make a stance so that Kicktrollers know they are being watched. Right now they might think they have free reign.

  11. First time I was aware of something like this was several years ago. Maybe it’s on the rise, maybe people are talking about it more.
    That said this seems to be the Kickstarter manifestation of punks on the street sneaking up behind unsuspecting innocents and blindly knocking them out cold.

  12. I’ve seen it happen in non-comics areas of Kickstarter as well. There was one KS I was pledge to which would have the total start dropping as soon as they got close to a big stretch goal. The troll loved watching people get all excited about the goal and then pulling the rug out from underneath them.

    I seem to remember the person running that campaign saying something about banning people for doing stuff like that. So maybe there are tools the campaign runner has to address some of the problem?

  13. Would seem to me the easiest way to stop this would be the previously suggested idea of any pledge going over 1k being non-cancellable and handing out bans to credit cards and all associated accounts for those that try to dispute the charge.

    Seller protection should be a much bigger part of online sales at big sites like Kickstarter. Being bad at it is one of the primary reasons a lot of people abandoned ebay.

  14. The $1k idea sounds ok, but falls into problems of its own. Suppose I donate that amount to a campaign, and then a week later I need a new boiler? My need for heating takes priority then, and I’m going to be unhappy if I can’t change my mind with Kickstarter.

    I ran a successful campaign for a short film – £4000 – 3 contributions of £400 each contributed around a third of the total budget. They were big asks, but clearly we hit on something that worked for a minority of our supporters. and we’d have been stumped without them. The answer is not to be found in stopping people who have money from offering it.

  15. Can someone please explain to those of us that are not familiar with the financial details behind these campaigns how it is possible for Amazon to have collected the pledge, but can not be withdrawn?

    I have backed quite a lot of campaigns, and I didn’t even notice that I could take my pledge back, not that I would of course!

  16. @Harry
    Once the money is getting collected from Kickstarter backers via Amazon Payments (which is never quite immediate, because there are always credit card problems, etc, for some % of backers), it is frozen in the campaign runner’s Amazon account for 1-2 weeks before it can be withdrawn. In our (Locust Moon’s) case, it was in this period that we received that giant pledge and had it charged back. So it’s currently sitting where no one can touch it, “in dispute” (which is a process Amazon has me paying for).

    Actually a side effect of this trolling was that for a whole extra month, Amazon wouldn’t let us withdraw ANY money from the campaign based on that one dispute (I forgot to mention this to Heidi!). Everyone I talked to in customer service told me that this shouldn’t be happening, but it took a whole month for it to be fixed. So…given that our campaign was designed to go to print right away, and that we also had a second book and the Locust Moon Comics Festival to finance in the same month…that sucked.

  17. Why is Kickstarter letting garbage humans like this parasite up their site? This is an enormous business that could step in and take care of this and chooses not to! A new website has to be able to easily shake off trolls. If it doesn’t, it could run the way of reddit, a good idea that is also riddled with creeps. This is a machine, yes, but there are people on the other end who could do something. If they choose not to, it could be their downfall.

  18. Yeah — this is an added stressor for an already stressful enterprise (well, for me anyway). My project reached its modest goal today (yay me!), but if the top two or three backers pull out it could defund it as it stands now. There are five days left and I am hoping to pick up more backers, but that sort of bad behaviour still could end up messing with stretch goals as well.

    I am prepared for the 2% payment failure Jimmy mentioned, which should be too much a factor when I’m dealing with 4-figure totals, but that be a significant amount when you get into the mid-5-figure or even the 6-figure range (as with Ben Templesmith’s SQUIDDER).

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