4 Crowdfunding Scams To Look Out For

Bri Castellini
5 min readFeb 2, 2024

No matter which platform you use or how you set up your campaign, there will always be scammers and bad actors on the internet (and in real life) waiting to take advantage of your process. Where there’s money being exchanged, there are vultures. I say this not to scare you, but prepare you to be on guard to protect what matters (the budget to make your movie!).

As part of that preparation, let’s discuss the biggest 4 red flags you’ll likely encounter during crowdfunding, and how to protect yourself and your future film.

When someone’s message of support or potential contribution is full of typos

English isn’t everyone’s first language, and even for those who are native speakers don’t always express themselves clearly in writing (my best friend, who has a master’s degree, types so strangely I sometimes question if we’re speaking the same language, but aloud he’s the most eloquent person in the universe). This red flag is not about mocking people for struggling to express themselves in text, or for making a mistake or two in their message.

However, most crowdfunding scams are either programmed by a computer (and therefore prone to sounding a little… off) or by a person in a different country whose entire job is instigating scams. It’s good practice to be more cautious with messages and claims that come from a source whose communication is riddled with typos, grammatical errors, and strange phrasing.

If this was a real person who really wanted you to hire them, or work with them, wouldn’t they be better at outreach? If they’re promising to help promote your campaign, isn’t it a bad sign if their promotion of THEMSELVES to YOU is mostly incomprehensible? Even if this is a completely real person, really offering to help, you shouldn’t hire them.

When someone wants to give you money… off platform

Are there circumstances where a potential contributor to your campaign needs to send money via a different method than your crowdfunding page? Of course! My grandparents, for instance, prefer to send me a check rather than signing up for a website. Bigger donors may also ask if they can contribute through your fiscal sponsor, if you have one and it isn’t connected to your primary crowdfunding platform.

But if a stranger messages you (especially with poor grammar and spelling) telling you they’d like to make a contribution, but first you have to message them off-platform or only if they can do so elsewhere on the internet, take a step back. You’re literally crowdfunding, using a platform explicitly designed to support payments between strangers. If they actually wanted to give you money, they would have given it to you already. In fact, there’s nothing stopping them from giving you money if your campaign is as cool as they say… unless they never intended to give you money in the first place.

When someone asks you to click a link before contributing

Never go to a secondary website or click a link from a potential donor’s message that you don’t recognize. Crowdfunding platforms are designed to keep you safe and keep all the money you raise in a single, easily accessible place. Once you leave their platform, there’s nothing they can do to help if something goes wrong.

Even if the link SEEMS familiar, it’s a common phishing tactic to design a website that looks familiar except for a few small differences, to trick people into thinking it’s safe to enter information. And if you do click a link, accidentally or otherwise, do not enter any details, even your email but especially not your phone number, any common passwords, or bank details into the page that link takes you to.

When someone offers you marketing support mid-campaign

At the point at which you’re actively campaigning, it’s common to prey on the anxiety that you haven’t funded fast enough by offering to help promote your campaign. A few things here:

  1. If you don’t recognize the name or company messaging you, they probably aren’t real. A real company only messages if they’ve been referred to you directly (there are too many active campaigns for a real company to cold-message all of them), if your campaign is already over and they want to offer support for the next one, or if you’ve been referred to THEM.
  2. If they share a link to their website, refer to the red flag above. Do not click links from unknown sources. Instead, take their name/alleged company and put it into a search engine. You can even add “+crowdfunding” as a key word to narrow things down. If you can’t find them via a search engine, they probably aren’t real. (whereas if you search for my name, Bri Castellini, you’ll find tons of examples of who I am, work I’ve made, and proof I worked with a crowdfunding platform in the past, with plenty of ways of verifying who I am).
  3. If you still aren’t convinced one way or another, but think you might need this person’s services, ask for a reference! Ask for a previous campaign they’ve worked with (don’t click any links, use your search engine separately to find your own), a person you can talk to who can verify their messaging, etc.

Contrary to some advice, though, it’s not a red flag if a potential crowdfunding consultant or strategist requires payment up front! Different freelancers have different payment styles– campaign managers will often have a fee up front for the work of developing and running the campaign regardless of success, plus a cut of the proceeds at the end if the campaign is successful.

However, as a crowdfunding strategy consultant, all my work is completed prior to the campaign launching (with exceptions for emailed questions during the launch), so I don’t take a cut, I just require an up-front payment for the work I do.

This is why it’s so important to do your own research before hiring someone. Of course you should never send money up front to someone you don’t know and can’t verify the identity/veracity of! But a freelancer asking for money up front for supporting your crowdfunding campaign is not, in and of itself, a red flag.

Bri Castellini is an independent filmmaker, an aspiring romance author, and, regrettably, a podcaster. She’s known for the 2017 short film Ace and Anxious (writer/director, 160k+ views on YouTube) and for her podcasts Burn, Noticed and Breaking Out of Breaking In, covering the USA television show Burn Notice and practical filmmaking advice, respectively. She can lick her elbow (not clickbait). Full work history and ways to hire her as a consultant can be found on her website BriCastellini.com

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Bri Castellini

Freelance indie film and crowdfunding consultant. Writer of mystery TV and romance novels. Human bulldozer. www.BriCastellini.com