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$500k "Energy-Harvesting" Kickstarter Scam Unfolding Right Now 448

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the stolen-goa'uld-technology dept.
New submitter FryingLizard (512858) writes For a while I've been following the saga of the Kickstarter "iFind" Bluetooth 4.0 tracking tag. Nothing new about such tags (there are many crowdfunded examples; some have delivered, some have disappointed), but this one claims it doesn't require any batteries — it harvests its energy from electromagnetic emissions (wifi, cell towers, TV signals, etc). The creators have posted no evidence other than some slick Photoshop work, an obviously faked video, some easily disproven data, and classic bad science. So far they've picked up half a million in pledges. With six days to go until they walk off with the money, skeptics abound (10min in) including some excellent dissections of their claims. The creators have yet to post even a single photo of the magical device, instead posting empty platitudes and claims that such secrecy is necessary to protect their IP.

Using just their published figures, their claims are readily refuted, yet still backers flock in. Kickstarter appear uninterested in what can only be described as a slow-motion bank robbery, despite their basic requirement to demonstrate a prototype. It seems self-evident that such scams should not be allowed to propagate on Kickstarter, for the good of other genuine projects and the community at large. Skeptics are maintaining a Google Doc with many of the highlights of the action. Bring your own popcorn and enjoy the show."
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$500k "Energy-Harvesting" Kickstarter Scam Unfolding Right Now

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  • by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @07:07AM (#47304841)

    I pledged $120.

    • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @07:50AM (#47305149)

      I suspect that many scammer Kickstarters have a mass of pledges just as fake as yours--only not intended for humor, but rather "self-giving" to create buzz and give the impression of legitimacy. I doubt very seriously that most of that $500,000 they've raised on this particular campaign is real.

      But this does raise a real point. Kickstarter needs some basic donor protections and means of reporting scams. Otherwise they'll just devolve in a feeding ground for con men and no one will take any project posted there seriously.

      • This is also a kick in the nuts to the SEC's proposed rules for crowdfunding startup companies, but its a great example why it has not been allowed to this point.

        You could just decide to let people get scammed, some would learn and be more selected, some would never invest again, some would get fooled again. Or, you can regulate the crap out of it and make it hard for everyone. Not an easy answer.
        • Scams aren't limited to crowdfunding systems .. investors are scammed by traditionally structured BS companies all the time too.

          A good way to help limit fraud would be jailtime if you're caught creating such a scam, but then, that would go against our cultural tradition of letting white-collar financial fraudsters get off scott-free on anything they do.

      • by flyingsquid (813711) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:41AM (#47305527)

        I'm in complete agreement here. We desperately need some way to tell legitimate Kickstarter campaigns from frauds. For that matter, the entire internet is full of scams and con-men waiting to take your money. That's why my team has developed iScam, the revolutionary new fraud-protection device.

        Inside every iScam is a tiny induction coil that is powered by negative energy. When negative energy released by a scam such as this one activates the device, it generates a current which in turn activates a blinking LED, with the frequency of the blinking being proportional to the negative energy field. Simply aim the device at your computer screen, or hold it up to the phone when you get that too-good-to-be-true offer, or even point it at your lover... if there's any deception in the area, iScam will be activated and you'll be alerted!

        Pledge just $15 and we'll send you one device. For $25 we'll send you two. For $100, we'll send you an improved prototype with even more sensitive scam-detection algorithms. And for the especially gullible-those of you who have lost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to scammers before- you need the top-level security provided by iScam Pro, which has a more powerful induction circuit, both increasing the range of the device and allowing it to detect even the tiniest fib! Pledge just $999 and we'll send you an iScam Pro. With our patented technology, you'll be safer than ever. And best of all, it's all environmentally friendly and fair-trade, with 10% of all proceeds going to benefit orphaned pandas.

        • by Zalbik (308903) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @10:24AM (#47306407)

          I'm confused. I have one of your early prototypes, and when I aim it at your post it blinks like crazy!

          That means your post is a scam. But if your post is a scam, my device shouldn't be blinking. But my device is blinking...so your post must be a scam.....but...

          • Uh-oh! (Score:4, Funny)

            by SpammersAreScum (697628) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:11PM (#47311537)

            I'm confused. I have one of your early prototypes, and when I aim it at your post it blinks like crazy!

            That means your post is a scam. But if your post is a scam, my device shouldn't be blinking. But my device is blinking...so your post must be a scam.....but...

            ... backing slowly away from the imminent head explosion as the logic circuits overload ...

    • by bitt3n (941736) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:50AM (#47305601)

      I pledged $120.

      Same here. I don't know what this tinfoil hat wearing idiot who came up with the conspiracy theory in the summary is thinking. After all, dowsing rods have been working since biblical times, and I can't recall swapping out the double A's in mine recently, can you? Similarly, the ADE 651 bomb detector, which contains no power source, and relies on a similar principle, has been protecting troops in Iraq and Pakistan for years. Do you really think already impoverished governments would spend tens of millions of dollars on something so vital to the lives of its armed forces if it didn't work? OP should remove this libelous screed before he finds he's on the wrong side of a lawsuit.

    • by puppetman (131489) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @10:44AM (#47306607) Homepage

      I'm embarrassed to say that I pledged $70. I thought being on Kickstarter provided some level of protection against this, and that no one would be so brazen as to hijack people's names and credentials, and post them a popular website to promote their claims.

      Thanks, Slashdot. I promise I'll be more careful next time.

      If someone tells me the PowerUp 3.0 remote-controlled airplane is a hoax, I'll be devastated...

  • Everybody knows that green tech works without regard to laws of physics. Give them your money, they are green! They know how to make magic work!

    • For a while I've just assumed kickstarter and scams went hand in hand. Actual VC funding might go to shitty causes, but with something like this you'd expect a VC could at least ask an engineer acquaintance.
      • A VC would be able to actually see the product, the patent, and the actual people producing it before he invested.
  • This fake too? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 0dugo0 (735093)
    • Re:This fake too? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by OzPeter (195038) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @07:26AM (#47304975)

      Just because harvesting of RF energy is a legitimate field does not mean that this product is genuine.

      Or to give you a car analogy, just because internal combustion engines are used to drive cars does not mean that you can run a 4 litre V8 engine at full power and get 100 miles to the gallon.

      • Re:This fake too? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Rei (128717) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:11AM (#47305299) Homepage

        Or to give you a car analogy, just because internal combustion engines are used to drive cars does not mean that you can run a 4 litre V8 engine at full power and get 100 miles to the gallon

        Sure you can, if you run it in pulse-and-glide mode or use it as an intermittent generator, in a very light / streamlined vehicle. Even if you want to add on a requirement that it has to be run continuously, you could probably pull it off by going to extremes with your streamlining (going for a Cd of 0,1 or less and a cross section of under 0,5m... basically a little teardrop 1-man reclined capsule going at incredible speeds, thus quickly racking up those "miles" to compensate for the fast fuel consumption) and/or using an electrolysis cell to regenerate hydrogen fuel using whatever power your engine has in surplus (wasteful, but better than throwing away the surplus power from your full-throttle requirement for no purpose). Hmm, that's another thing one could do to game your challenge, one could mess with the fuel mix and the fuel-air ratio; some fuels or fuel progenitors are a lot denser than gasoline (more energy per gallon) - for example, using aluminum powder to generate hydrogen for the V8, a gallon of aluminum powder contains 2 1/2 times more energy than a gallon of gasoline, even with the losses in hydrogen generation it'll still leave you way ahead of the game. And there's all sorts of other possible ways one could tweak the engine, too, to reduce both its consumption (and correspondingly, power output) at full power. Including the easiest one, just tweak the throttle control so that full throttle is actually a very low power output. You could also get some small efficiency gains by sabotaging the pollution controls.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Look at the size of the antennas they are using, and compare them to the size of the iFind tags. Note how the legit project is going for much lower frequencies where there is much more energy available (hence the larger antenna), while iFind are trying to harvest intentionally low power wifi on a band with poor propagation. Look at the size of the PCBs and the size of the energy storage available in each design.

      Wireless energy harvesting is an exciting field, but it can't do what these guys are claiming I'm

  • I swear I remember a period of a few weeks where I'd see ads for this product on slashdot...
  • Game over for Kickstarter. This will bite them hard...

  • by EmagGeek (574360) <<gterich> <at> <aol.com>> on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @07:12AM (#47304875) Journal

    This is why there is zero oversight from Kickstarter/Amazon - they get their 20% cut if the projects gets funded. There's no way Amazon.com is going to walk away from $125,000 in free money when they have absolutely no risk.

    (We've heard this song before - from ISPs back in the day who claimed they were "common carriers" and "only providing a network" to avoid being charged as accessories to piracy).

    They'll take their 125k, and if questioned, simply state they were providing a platform, and that they are not responsible for what users do with it.

    • If they are wise than that is NOT what they'll do.
      If it is a scam and word gets around that they didn't care then the income from Kickstarter would stop quite fast.
      Even if they don't care for the platform itself but only the revenue stream from it they should actively block scams.

      • by jythie (914043)
        Maybe this is why they 'opened up' the process and removed the requirement for review. Now they can plausibly say they were not aware of projects like this.
        • I think its more of removing the risk of a scam getting through the initial review, which would provide a liability path.
    • There's no way Amazon.com is going to walk away from $125,000 in free money when they have absolutely no risk.

      No Risks except from legal action, possibly a class action suite. Distrust in the service and decline of its brand name. Lack of repeat customers and new projects being posted as they are afraid they will be considered a scam project as well.

  • So a whois.net domain name lookup on their site yielded nothing. And there are suspiciously no patents mentioning "wetag" or "ifind" and the names they listed (Dr. Paul McArthur) are in patents but for cold fusion BS in California.

    Surely, though, they must have registered the "iFind" trademark? And if you search on TESS we find:

    Owner (APPLICANT) WeTag, Inc. CORPORATION TEXAS 3309 San Mateo Drive Plano TEXAS 75023

    With an attorney listed as "Richard G. Eldredge" which corresponds to a local attorney [dfwpatentlaw.com]. Before you deploy the door kickers to lynch somebody, that address is just somebody's $200,000 house and could possibly be a random address used by a jerk. Remember that it's entirely possible that this is all a front by some other actor and someone was paid western union/bitcoin to register this trademark through this attorney without realizing they were just being used by literally anyone in the world ... of course, kickstarter should have even better transaction details (hopefully).

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, according to Zillow, the house was rented for $1,250 in May 2013. It isn't even an owner-occupied house.

  • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @07:13AM (#47304887)

    If they allow projects to float their rules,and yet still take pledges?

    There's a lawsuit waiting to happen here, it could be as lucrative as posting a dodgy kickstarter campaign!

    hmm..

    1. post obviously crap kickstarter
    2. pledge yourself
    3. complain vigorously when you "lose" your money
    4. start a class-action suit against kickstarter for not checking things out
    5. profit!!!

    no need for ??? on this one!

    • by wbr1 (2538558) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @07:36AM (#47305043)
      I am just gonna start a kickstarter to pay a lawyer to sue kickstarter.
    • Do people who are defrauded out of money often make a profit in court? I would think that at absolute best you would make your money back + lawyer's fees.

      Why would you even be awarded more than you lost?

    • 4 needs to be "start a class-action suit against the ACTUAL fraudsters". IIRC there was a story floating around the internet about such a lawsuit recently and the backers won.

      Of course, this is because the kickstarter was a scam. If the actual product isn't delivered but the company was acting in good faith, you have no case. You're not guaranteed to get anything out of a kickstarter; it's an investment, and some investments fail.

    • by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:34AM (#47305467)

      The basic defense from them is.. how ARE they liable?

      Kickstarter's claim is that they're merely providing a platform, that they conditionally charge for the use of that platform, but that what it's actually used for is not really any of their concern. They also carefully word that backers aren't really investing, that they're basically just throwing money at a person at the hopes of getting something - while at the same time saying that getting that something is required, but that they're no party in it and that backers will just have to fall back to plain ol' contract law with the contract being between the backers and the project creators.
      ( Also keep in mind that recently they actually dropped a bunch of their rules - though that's more from pressure of other crowdfunding sites and all the bad press Kickstarter has gotten lately for actually policing their rules, than that they wanted to. )

      I can think of 3 lawsuits that have happened that involved KickStarter in one way or another:

      1. Hanfree - a sort of iPad stand, in which a backer who also happened to be an attorney sued on principle because the project creator burnt through the money (on what? no idea), stopped communicating, and then buggered off. I don't think Kickstarter was named as a defendant. If I recall correctly, that lawsuit also went nowhere fast because the project creator defaulted into bankruptcy.
      http://venturebeat.com/2013/01... [venturebeat.com]

      2. The WA AG's case (complaint handling) against a project creator. That's ongoing, but as far as I know Kickstarter hasn't been named a defendant there either.
      http://www.pcworld.com/article... [pcworld.com]

      3. The 3D Systems case. This was a patent case brought against Formlabs, but initially also named Kickstarter as a defendant because Kickstarter took a 5% cut and promoted the project through their site. Kickstarter was later dropped as a defendant, however.
      http://www.insidecounsel.com/2... [insidecounsel.com]

      So I'm afraid your 5-step program probably isn't going to work on account of Kickstarter absolving themselves from any responsibility, and apparently having the law on their side (until proven otherwise).

      On the up side, your 5-step program really only needs to be 3 steps.
      1. post not entirely obviously crap Kickstarter but just something that's popular.. like wallets, multitools, iThing covers, 3D printers, custom pens, etc. for which you already know there exists an eager audience.
      2. make goal (helps setting it to a realistic level)
      3. run off with the money aka profit!!!

      Or even two steps, if you don't mind setting up a crowdfunding website and going head-to-head with Kickstarter/indiegogo/rockethub/etc.

  • https://www.indiegogo.com/proj... [indiegogo.com] also was a scam, purportedly concentrating diffuse radiation.

    • The Internet says "rawlemon scam" is a revolutionary new technology. Everywhere. Provide that this is a scam, because I can't find any such evidence, and there is a lot of tech that looks stupid because I don't understand it but is actually brilliant and awesome.
  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @07:19AM (#47304931) Homepage

    I'd rather crowdfund a Star Trek movie - at least there are some nice ones already made that way.

    • Just don't clean your glasses for a few days and look at the sun and you'll get the same amount of lensflares, why do you need crowdfunding for that?

  • by drainbramage (588291) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @07:43AM (#47305093)

    Give Kickstarter a break, they're very busy protecting us from conservatives.

  • by Andover Chick (1859494) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @07:45AM (#47305109)
    From Snake Oil in the Old West to weight loss scams, baldness fixes, male vitality enhancers, or Breatharians, the easiest thing to sell is false hope since it tricks the buy into thinking about only what they want, not what is actually possible.
  • And so ends what was once a good way for ideas to find funding. Trust some asshole to come in and fuck it up for everyone.

  • Strange thing is, I see free energy or alternative physics projects pop up on Kickstarter now and then, and usually they are shut down pretty quickly. I am curious why this one was allowed to continue when normally they are pretty good about not allowing them.
  • If (when) they just take the money and run, are they legally in the clear? If so, I think I'm about to switch careers...

    • considering that their is only 6 days to go, yes they will probably get the money.

      Considering that if they have any sense they are now citizens of Nigeria, and additionally have maintained and will continue to maintain a layer of anonymity, they will walk away in the clear.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:01AM (#47305231)

    And no, they cannot do what they claim. It is possible to build locators like they describe, but they would need to be passive. There is just no way to harvest and store enough in something this small. RFID tags derive all their energy from the sender that queries them, and with good antennas you can go up to, say 30m with them. But that is the limit these days and it is for a passive device that has its energy specifically and targeted beamed to it by the sender. For a harvesting device, you get very low power radio, almost no computing power and a few meters in reach and that is with a specialized receiver, not a general-purpose cell-phone.

  • to keep track of things like your wallet and keys by habitually keeping them in a single place, you probably shouldn't be walking around with either anyway. You should probably be holding a real adult's hand when you cross streets, too. Using technology to enable people to continue to be dopes is not a good idea.

    I can see where this would have value for people with dementia. If would help caregivers locate personal items that may be needed.

    When I think about how many airheads are walking around, I can't

    • by mark_reh (2015546)

      A classic example- old people in assisted living facilities frequently misplace their dentures (i know, what the hell?). They often take them out to eat (if they don't fit properly), wrap them in a napkin and leave them sitting on a table. The napkin containing the denture gets scooped into the trash with food waste and the denture has mysteriously disappeared. If WeTag's stuff works and the tag circuits could be embedded in dentures it would be great!

  • by Joe Gillian (3683399) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:09AM (#47305279)

    Videogame kickstarters have (from experience) more false claims than any other Kickstarter type I've ever seen. For instance, there was one that Retsupurae covered on Youtube yesterday, where a person claiming to be a "former Square-Enix employee" was trying to get people to crowdfund a remake of Chrono Trigger... made entirely in RPG Maker. Apart from the fact that said "former employee" didn't have the rights to Chrono Trigger, it was pretty clear that he had never actually coded anything before. In comparison, there have been several groups attempting to remake the game, all of whom were doing it for free. They were all sent C&D letters and stopped - but this guy didn't have to because his Kickstarter came nowhere close to getting funded.

    There was also the guy who tried to make a 3D version of Monster Girl Quest. Compared to the Chrono Trigger guy he was a little better off rights-wise: he didn't own the rights to the real Monster Girl Quest, which hadn't even released its third and final installment when the Kickstarter went up, but MGQ wasn't registered in the United States yet and was only purchaseable through Japanese websites. The developer of MGQ is small enough that I don't think they would have the resources to sue, but they didn't have to - the guy didn't make funding, which was probably for the best, seeing as he featured his family (including his son, who was like five years old when he made the Kickstarter) in a pitch video for a "clean" version of an h-game.

    If Kickstarter can't catch basic things like these, where they're clearly an infringement of copyright that could be discovered in a matter of seconds (both of the Kickstarters I mentioned had the names of the games they were stealing from clearly listed in their summaries) there's no way they're going to catch bad science.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:20AM (#47305371)

    Before the witch hunt begins, someone should kindly ask this guy, one of the listed affiliates:
    http://www.ifp.illinois.edu/~zwang119/
    whether he knowingly has his name on this project. From the looks of his research, he does nothing with hardware. And so someone may have just listed him.

    If it actually is him, this can be roped in really fast by either contacting his academic advisor and if necessary, the chair of the department or a Dean. This would create such horrible publicity for U. Illinois that action should be swift and decisive.

    Look, if people really doubt the science (and I do: wireless electromagnetic power transission is really only a near field phenomena because those contributions to the E and B fields that can drive currents usefully drop much harder than 1/r).

    Now go and be nice, he's probably a victim too.

  • by robstout (2873439) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:28AM (#47305425)
    I'll use it in my car, which gets 100 MPG due to the fuel line magnets. Too bad I can't afford the conversion kit so it can run on water :)
  • by DutchUncle (826473) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:36AM (#47305479)
    And I say, with my freedom of speech, "Caveat Emptor" - let the buyer beware. Is this any worse than the dot-com bubble? I am surprised to see so much call for regulation and oversight here on /. where I would have expected to see more focus on the decentralized crowd-based DEBUNKING that this article itself represents. Many technological items were impossible, then impractical, then suddenly commonplace, so distinguishing between "bad science" and "immature technology" is harder than it used to be. Add a generation of insistence that "everyone's opinion has validity" and it's no wonder that science is having such a hard time.
  • by bobbied (2522392) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:08AM (#47305723)

    "There is a sucker born every minute!"

    Things like this prove him right. "A fool and his money are soon parted...."

  • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @11:30AM (#47307075)

    Quantum Energy Generator. [gofundme.com] Now that's the stuff.

    I skipped around the video and the best part is at 9:20:
    "When I stand in that lab, I can feel the magical presence of the QEG."

    I hope that they are using the money to go beat everyone who donates to it with a stick.

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