The Simplest Way to Stop Crowdfunding Scams

By Ashley Feinberg on at

I wish I could say that crowdfunding was hitting a rough patch. What with all the scams and impossible projects gracing the various platforms' hallowed halls, that's what should be happening. And yet! Creators continue to promise beyond their means, and we keep burying them with cash. Thankfully, though, Indiegogo may have finally figured out how to give people a modicum of security against these often absurd gambles. Offer insurance.

Right now, the biggest thing missing from crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter is any sort of accountability. Yes, innovation is great, but when people are free to surround those strokes of genius with expensive, flaming piles of rubbish, the good tends to get negated by the overwhelmingly bad. Which is awful for us, great for scammers, and of minimal interest to the platforms themselves. After all, what do they care if you waste your money on something stupid/non-existent? In the end, they're not the ones liable.

But if Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and the like want us to keep forking over our precious money, they need to start caring. Which is why Indiegogo's new (still-in-testing) insurance plan could finally be the answer to our scam-riddled woes.

The new "Optional Insurance," which was first discovered by TechCrunch, appears to only be available on a single project thus far, the Olive stress-management wearable. When you go to preemptively secure your Olive band, you're given the option to purchase the Indiegogo-provided insurance for the relatively reasonable price of $15 (£10). Then, if the Olive doesn't materialise within three months of when it's supposed to, its Indiegogo's responsibility to give you your money back.

The Simplest Way to Stop Crowdfunding Scams

Of course, this doesn't negate the risk entirely. If a project is still delivered within the three months but doesn't quite live up to your expectations, you're out of luck. And since the insurance is optional (not to mention limited to the first 25 people), not everyone who donates will be protected. But at least it's something. Some hedge. Some security against total losses and absolutely no gains.

Indiegogo was short on additional details, saying to us over email that the company "regularly develops and tests new features to meet the needs of both contributors and campaign owners. This pilot test is currently limited to this individual campaign". It's not immediately apparent whether or not that $15 covers multiple bands or if you'd need to buy additional insurance with additional orders.

For all its hesitancies and misgivings (it is, after all, just a trial) this is still undoubtedly a step in the right direction. In fact, it's arguably the first real step in the right direction for either Indiegogo or Kickstarter, its only slightly less unruly counterpart.

Consider just how lax Indiegogo is in its project restrictions. It even say so first thing on the landing page.

The Simplest Way to Stop Crowdfunding Scams

No application process! Don't worry, we don't give a shit, so you can start panhandling for internet cash right this very minute!

The more people whose money gets sucked into thin air with nothing to show for it, the less likely people are to keep contributing to the few endeavours that are actually deserving. Which is exactly why Indiegogo finally having some skin in the game could be such a great thing.

If a platform actually has a vested interest in whether or not its projects actually make it to contributors as promised, it might finally be motivated to make sure those promises are viable in the first place. Which would both save the site money and limit the number of people getting sucked into the scams and impossibilities crowdfunding is known for.

Whether or not Indiegogo will actually roll this out in any sort of wide release remains to be seen. It's hard to hold out too much hope considering its less-than-stellar record for taking responsibility in the past, coupled with the reality that this is almost sure to cost them more money than it makes them. But hey, even testing it out is a pleasant surprise, and Kickstarter would do well to follow suit. Because this is how you save crowdfunding from the noisy, scam-filled landfill it already is.

Art by Michael Hession