Flies in the ointment: Will fraudsters kill crowdfunding?

The IndieGoGo campaign looked fantastic. A friend had shared it on her Facebook feed last fall, and I clicked through, intrigued. It was an advance-fund crowdsource model, whereby an entrepreneur raises production capital by accepting pre-orders to ensure a minimum quantity. The product idea sounded brilliant, simple and well thought out. On video, the founder came across as smart, enthusiastic and passionate. I hit “fund” almost immediately.

A year later, and I still haven’t received my product. The founder’s Facebook page and IndieGoGo campaign site is full of similar angry complaints from other backers demanding refunds. Slow shipping, product delays, poor communication. And so on, and so forth. IndieGoGo won’t get involved — it’s not their policy to do so. There’s a chance I’ll still get the product eventually, but I’ve basically written it off at this point. I took a risk. It didn’t pay off. And I’m hardly the only one.

From Kobe Beef Jerky to the GoBe wristband, the media abounds with stories of crowdfunding fraud. Some of these projects are blatant scams, with the intent all along to defraud backers. Others fall into a bit more of a grey area, starting off with good intentions on behalf of the initiators, but turning sour when the project hits a few speedbumps. It’s enough to make everyone a little wary of crowdfunding, even — or especially — when a project sounds really, really great.

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