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When it comes to prime beef, Kobe is king. Marbled and fatty, the meat of Wagyu cows (who are raised near Kobe) is prized across the world for its rich taste and texture.
So when a campaign for Kobe beef jerky appeared on Kickstarter, it’s no surprise the project quickly reached and surpassed its modest $2,374 goal. The campaign ultimately attracted over 3,000 backers, and $120,000 in funding.
Alas, it was all a scam, and one that would have succeeded in pulling off the six-figure con had it not been for the wisdom of the crowd.
Here’s the story: the project was created by an L.A.-based company called Magnus Fun Inc. The creator’s uncles, the campaign page claimed, raised Kobe beef cattle, and taught the creator (who remained nameless) to make jerky out of ‘Rancher’s Keep’ – strips of meat that were unfit for restaurants, but were just as tasty as the prime cuts. The U.S. ban on Kobe beef imports was lifted last year, and the good folks of Magnus Fun wanted to bring their uncles' delectable jerky to fans in the U.S.
To show enthusiasm around the jerky, Magnus Fun posted photos of text messages from those who had supposedly tried and loved the jerky. The pitch video also showed pictures of the jerky. The campaign’s comment section was brimming with messages from passionate fans who tasted the delicacy.
But it all didn’t quite add up, as shrewd backers on the campaign’s comment page began to point out. Instead of posting pictures of review texts, why couldn’t the creators just post photos of themselves handing out the jerky? (Especially since Magnus Fun claimed to have gone to a number of tasting events across the U.S.) Why didn’t the pitch video show the creators themselves, or footage from the uncles’ farms? Why did the most enthusiastic supporters only backed failed projects and created their accounts within the previous few weeks?
If these flags weren’t red enough, backer ‘Old Man’ began asking for clarifications about the source of the beef, as early as May 27th (probably more concerned that the jerky was not made from Kobe beef, rather than that the whole project itself was a scam). Magnus Fun responded with halfhearted and unfulfilling answers, which only prodded more questions.
After a few weeks of back-and-forth emails, Magnus Fun told the Kickstarted team they would send over footage of a recent taste test. The filmmakers agreed to take a look at the footage, but never promised to include it in the documentary.
“As soon as we had done that, they posted [an update] that they were going to be in our film,” Jason Cooper, Kickstarted producer, told Crowdsourcing.org. “We got messages from four of their backers, immediately, who said, ‘Did you guys actually film with these guys?’... At that point, we [went] to explore the message board and started to see some of the messages and taking stock of what was going on there.”
Sifting through the suspicious messages, Cooper had the idea to call the people who operated the Ink-N-Iron festival, where Magnus Fun had supposedly passed out their jerky. The organizers told Cooper that there was no Kobe beef jerky at the festival.
Investigating further, the filmmakers saw that the MagnusFunInc.com domain was registered to a ‘Desjon Allen.’ The same person had apparently registered another domain, uhadme.com, under a different name – ‘Stanley Owens.’ A Stanley Owens was active on the campaign's comment board, and was one of the most outspoken supporters of Magnus Fun. Clearly, something here was very fishy indeed.
Digging deeper still, Cooper said he found a 4chan thread about a Desjon Allen setting up a fake donations page for George Zimmerman (the man who shot Trayvon Martin) defense fund.
The Kickstarted team chronicled their search in this Reddit thread, and on their own blog. They believe it wasn’t the last time they’ve seen this shady Allen/Owens character, as a fake user has been pestering them on their own campaign since they began pointing out discrepancies in the Magnus Fun campaign – they’ve written up that account here.
Citing company policy, a Kickstarter representative declined to comment on this campaign, and why it was eventually pulled. Kickstarter, like other platforms, is a self-policing community, and it relies on the crowd to ask the tough questions of campaign owners. In this case, the wisdom of the crowd worked as advertised. No credit cards were charged, and payment information was not passed along to the scammers. Though it took Kickstarter until the final hour to pull the campaign, something tells us that they were following the campaign for at least several days, given its prominence, activity in comments, and suspicious nature of Magnus Fun.
Those who pledged money to the campaign will not be getting their hands on the admittedly delicious-sounding Kobe beef jerky, after all. But, there are plenty of other jerky makers on Kickstarter, and they are definitely more deserving of the donations.