There’s a Formula to the Perfect Kickstarter Scam

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UPDATE: See Part 2 for the latest news on the Chiu brothers.
UPDATE 2: The Nbition website has been taken down
Note: Some links have been updated to web archive links to preserve the ‘evidence.’


There is a school in Hong Kong teaching people the recipe to create the perfect project on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The problem is, all of these projects are a scam. In my research, I have found a half dozen ‘businesses’ and projects that can all be tied back to Nbition Development Limited (edit: 04.06.17 11:00 the Nbition website – nbition.com – has been taken down, web archive link added). Not a single one of these projects has successfully delivered a product to their backers and each of them are a Kickstarter scam.

Nbition Development Limited

The story of Nibition starts with the Arist smart coffee brewer launched on Kickstarter in October of 2014. With a very detailed plan and great looking product shots, Arist quickly surpassed their goal by almost 10x. Everything seemed kosher with the product and every major tech new outlet was covering their success. Now, two and a half years later, backers are still commenting that they have not received their pledged rewards or refunds. I read through the 41 updates that have been posted to the project, the most recent of which was March 10 of this year, and they alternate between issues with product, issues with funding, promises of delivering a better project, and talk of the founders global travel/vacations.

The Kickstarter scam project lists Benson Chiu and Nelson Chiu as the chief officers of Arist. Remember these names, as they become important later. There is no mention of where they are based in the project description or in the updates, but there are vague references to Hong Kong being their location. Even the Arist website does not list an office location. With some quick searching through Hong Kong incubator programs, I found that Nbition Development Ltd. is the supposed incubator that the product was developed in. While Nbition calls themselves an engineering incubator, the only project referenced to is Arist. They also have Nelson Chiu listed as the main contact.

To recap so far: the Arist startup is being incubated at Nbition Development, and the main contact for both companies is Nelson Chiu. Nbition has not publicized any other startups that they are incubating, and Arist has not delivered a finished product in the three years since the campaign.

Znaps Limited

Znaps*, launched on Kickstarter in July 2015, promised to bring the magnetic connection seen on Mac laptops to mobile phones and more. The creator of the project Phiona (Pui Woon Leung) clearly states that they are based out of Canada. The project is even being funded in CAD, so that seems to check out. Looking through the project, everything seems to be in order from a technical perspective. They even admit they are not the first product on the market to have this capability, but that they have a patent on the product (no further details given). The project goes viral and closes at $3 million CAD.

Alas, Znaps is yet another Kickstarter scam. In the months following the close of the campaign, the backers continued to post steady updates about the project. That was until they supposedly started to encounter manufacturing issues every step of the way. First the magnets were not strong enough, then the connection did not work, and even the LED indicator light was ‘too bright’. For what was pitched as a finished product, there was clearly something off.

Another quick internet search for Znaps Limited brings up a Hong Kong company registered to, you guessed it, Nelson Chiu. This information was circulated through the Kickstarter comments for months and the relationship was denied by Znaps. They claimed Znaps Limited in Hong Kong was only a distributor of the product and was in no way related to the project.

Now, almost two years later, all updates have stopped and no backers have posted any indication of receiving a product. There are reports out there that Znaps has begun distribution of their product without fulfilling the rewards. In fact, their website has the products available for purchase (though not the same assortment promised on Kickstarter).

As I mentioned, the Znaps website has their product available to purchase, and it turns out some people have received the item from the site. There have been a few posts to a Kickstarter Znaps group unpacking the product they received, and in all cases the same address is listed:

FROM: Znaps Limited
Unit 111-113, 1F, Enterprise Place 5 Science Park West Ave,
Sha Ting, Hong Kong

So what is the importance of this address? Why would a Canadian company, manufacturing in China, fulfill distribution through an office building in Hong Kong? They would do that when that sames address is the office of Nbition Development Ltd., which I will remind you is registered to Nelson Chiu.

*Disclosure: I personally backed Znaps on Kickstarter, and have not received any proof of a final product.

Toasteroid: Another Kickstarter Scam Connected to Nbition

I will save you the set up for Toasteroid, an app controlled smart toaster. It follows the same pattern as the last two with a successful Kickstarter project. Though something was a little different about the launch of the project on Kickstarter. One morning I received an email inviting me to check out a Kickstarter project about a smart toaster. The problem was, the email did not come from Kickstarter. Great, i thought, some project sold my information. Whatever.

I scroll to the bottom of the email and see an option to unsubscribe. Okay, at least these people aren’t bad enough to not let me unsubscribe. Now this is strange enough so far, but the message received on the confirmation page takes this to the next level:

“You have been removed from Znaps 28000 Backer with Count.”

So why is this email associated with a Znaps mailing list? Best case, they sold our email addresses and contact information. Worse case, it’s being run by the same group of people. Unfortunately, I no longer have a copy of the email, but you can see a bunch of people received the same email and posted about it in the Znaps Kickstarter comments.

The only piece of information apparent on the Kickstarter page is the creator, Chun Wai Matthew Yu of Brooklyn, NY. A WHOIS on the domain does not give any more information. I feel like I am at a dead end with this connection, until I see the 3D interactive model widget they have towards the bottom of the page. It links out to a Toasteroid profile on a service called Sketchfab. Normal enough, until you look at the URL for the profile which is: https://sketchfab.com/nbition. Why would they not use Toasteroid as the ‘owner’ of the project? It would be a huge coincidence if they just happened to pick the same user name that can be linked to several other scam Kickstarter projects.

But that’s not all…

Auxillite, another Kickstarter following the same story, was funded only a few months ago in October 2016. Not nearly as successful as any of the others listed, they still raised over $150K. The profile for Auxillite says they are based out of New York, and the creator is listed as Chun Wai Matthew Yu (a.k.a. The same name and location from the Toasteroid campaign). They use the same interactive 3D prototype on the Kickstarter page, but at least they were smart enough to use a different account registered as Auxillite.

On another note, a duplicate project for Auxillite was posted to Indiegogo a month after the Kickstarter. I won’t be going into detail about it, but think it is worth mentioning.

There is more information available out there that I did not have time to fact check or include. Much of it can be found on a particular reddit thread and through Google.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

Nbition Development Limited and the Chiu brothers can be connected back to at least four different Kickstarter projects: Arist, Znaps, Toasteroid, and Ausillite. None of these products have been delivered to the backers, and in the case of Znaps, are already being sold and distributed.

Here is a handy chart showing the connections between the Kickstarter scams mentioned in this post:

kickstarter scam map of connections with nbition and chiu

There are probably more projects out there, and I intend to keep my eye out for them. At the bare minimum, the Chiu’s have provided support to all four of the projects through Nbition (also look at KickstartHK – whose web presence has disappeared). These projects have raised over $4 million USD, which at the 30% cut KickstartHK charged, is over $1 million USD.

It is quite clear that the Chiu brothers have developed a formula for crowdfunding site success, so it is more important than ever to be wary of too-good-to-be-true products.

Like this post and want to see more like it? Let me know in the comments.


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27 thoughts on “There’s a Formula to the Perfect Kickstarter Scam

  • Thank you so much for sharing all of this information. I fell for and got burned by the Toasteroid scam. I will never back another Kickstarter project again and will spread this information as far as I can!

  • I totally lose the faith in the crowdfunding model after being scammed by kickstarter and those znaps thieves. Nobody is pointing at them but kickstarter (scamstarter to me) is equally guilty of runnning and profiting from a website that is fertile ground for scammers and con artists. Kickstarter should act like an escrow agent, slowly releasing funds on successful campaigns and checking projects and giving them money only after proof of real development and if deadlines are met. Or maybe act as a guarantee of funds to backup a bank loan made by the project owner. This would make difficult for ghost companies like nbition with no address, no real names behind and no proven tracks of past success to get away with backers money.
    Next time you see a homeless guy with a sign asking for money to get high, realize that giving him money and backing projects in scamstarter is more or less the same:

  • Hey I read your article and I’m actually a backer of the auxillite and I’ve been pretty pissed off about what they are doing, so I’m making a youtube video about it. I will be using this article as a connection to all the kickstarter scams.

  • Thanks Dan,
    We really need to spread the word to stop these guys from scamming. It looks like znaps is back on Kickstarter with another scam:
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1987315112/magc-stylish-upgrade-for-usb-c-resurrect-magsafe

    The product looks super similar to znaps and Ken Yip, the creator, is linked to Benson Chiu via Linkedin. Everything looks very suspicious. I’m going to dig around some more and see if I can find other connections.

    • Hello Ian,

      I am glad you enjoyed this piece. Yes, the best way to stop them is to share and build awareness of what to look for. I have looked into the Mag C people for you a little bit, and it’s inconclusive for me. They seem to be responding appropriately to people’s questions and the like, but there are still a few things that don’t seem right for me:

      • Yet another project that is ‘based’ in the US, but clearly has all team members/investors/etc from Asia.
      • This is what, the dozenth time an item like this has come to the market? These tools already exist and they supposedly have investors – so the costs to make this should not be an issue.
      • The ‘experience’ listed for the person in charge is something to the extent of ‘Software engineer at Microsoft’. Okay – well this is hardware so that is totally different. I have also seen this ‘experience’ listed on many other projects that have not delivered. It’s the type of ‘experience’ I would list if I didn’t live in the country, but wanted to seem knowledgeable.
      • Their website is blocked from WHOIS lookup. Why hide who you are? This is a basic issue of trust for me.

      As I tend to recommend, wait until the product comes out. While you may be saving a significant percent now, with a high probability of scam – it’s just not worth it for me.

      • Hi Dan,

        I’m so glad you’ve looked into it too. I’ve just found another clue that it’s the Znaps team behind the MagC project. If you take a look at the campaign videos, you can see they filmed it in the same room. Check Znaps video at 0:53 and MagC video at 1:49.

        And they are also refusing requests to show the working prototype on Kickstarter Live now.
        And with both products having the same concept and technology, this can’t all just be a coincidence.
        The sad part is, they may end up getting away with it again, because it’s so hard for us to raise awareness to stop them.

      • I was a backer for MagC (you probably replied to some of my comments- I have the username Virginia),. I don’t know what to do. I’m so cautious to back again that product in indiegogo because of the red flags you mentioned before. On the one hand, the video released for znaps was clearly not legit (different time on the mobile phone and on iTunes backup etc). For MagC it different, clearly better job on that and the video seems ok. I’m waiting for the live demonstration.

        In the meantime, what about that product: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/bolt-world-s-1st-usb-c-magnetic-cable-for-macbook/x/17104041#/

        I saw a review (http://appleinsider.com/articles/17/08/02/review-vinpok-bolt-s-cable-returns-magsafe-like-technology-to-the-usb-c-macbook-pro)in appleinside saying in the comments section that they received the full retail pack of that product. As a delivery date they set October 2017

        • Hello Victoria,

          As you have seen with MagC being suspended, it is clear that something was not quite right with their campaign. I had suspicion from the beginning and they are connected back to the Chiu brothers.

          As for the Vinpok cable, this is nothing more than a scam as well. Mag cables are widely available from any cable manufacturer in China. See this link:

          https://www.aliexpress.com/wholesale?catId=100003569&initiative_id=AS_20170803071902&SearchText=usb+magnetic

          The speciality of MagC and Znaps was in them being adapters. They would work with OEM cables and could be taken off and put on when needed. I have no doubt that Vinpok will deliver, but it is by no means an innovative product. They are buying, packing, and selling existing products. As for backing them on Indiegogo, I would advise against it. My three big flags on these types of campaigns are:

          1. Lying about location. They claim to be from the US, but are clearly based in Asia (look at the devices being used in the demonstrations)
          2. ID blocking on WHOIS. Why hide who owns your website domain? All you have to put in is your office.
          3. Domain is new. Domain was only registered 5/10/17. For a product that has been in planning for so long for a company with so much ‘history’ this does not look good.

          • Thanks for the reply!i know that many magnetic cables already exist but I haven’t seen any to be able to charge a MacBook Pro. I want to use it with MacBook Pro 13″ touchbar

            If MagC do finally the live demonstration in 3 days as promised, do you think we have any way to check to what extent they have a real product ready?

          • There are plenty of these cables out there. The ‘best one’ brand wise would probably be the Griffin BreakSafe. I would buy one of those before trying to back a crowdfunding campaign.

            Live demonstrations are always the best way to tell if done properly. If it is just them showing the product ‘live’ that isn’t helpful. They need to be engaging and answering questions to get a true show of how the product is coming along.

  • Hello, is there no way to stop this brothers?
    What i mean is, if only 500 people go to a lawyer they will be in big stress.
    Or is everything what they are doing legal?
    Greetings from germany

  • Hi Dan,
    Thank you for putting in the time and effort to write this very informative article. I just want to include this product for your readers. It’s called Corsdrive and it’s put out by the same people who owns the Corspower campaign. It’s such a shame that Indiegogo will not be responsible at all for scams and failed campaigns.

    http://www.thecrowdfundingcenter.com/?page=project&id=13469B
    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/corsdrive-world-s-fastest-usb-3-0-mini-flash-drive-iphone-android#/updates

  • Thanks Dan I guess we have to do our own background check on these companies and can NOT rely on KS for any support or checking on their part all they want is to get their cut I guess

    • Hello Joshua,

      After some research, I do believe this has all the red flags of a classic KS scam.

      1. The company/creator – no website, no history of product, no actual face to the name. The only semblance of online presence is the Twitter, that was set up for the campaign. At the minimum, there was no intent for this to be a sustainable business after Kickstarter.

      2. The product – there are many other products like this already on the market. Most of them are cheaply made and do not stick around for long. The ‘new’ thing for this product was supposed to be the wireless capability, but I did not see this actually functioning on the campaign page.

      3. There is no mention of the app that would have to go along with this product. They show it in the video, but never mention it in the campaign. An app like this takes a dedicated team of engineers to build and manage over time. Smart phones and tablets do not have the same UI that a computer would have to manage storage on their own very well.

      The best case outcome for this product would be a cheap power bank with a SD card reader attached, with no technical support and an app that will make the product unusable within 6 months. Any factory in China would have products like this ready to order.

  • There was *nothing* that seemed kosher about the Arist. As soon as the thing was made public everybody with any common sense started pointing out that there was no way to fit the features in the casing, that all they had were mockups and that they were using photos of random electronics in their proposed product shots.

  • Hmm seems like Kickstarter could manage a 30% refund and if their small print covers them against such demands then presumably it also enables them to go after the scammers who may ultimately destroy the crowdfunding model.

  • Znap event got an ICT award from HK government. The award was later proved to be invalid and disqualified at 10. March 2017.

  • The owner of Znap limited is Nelson’s wife, Hong Kong newspaper already covered.

    And someone in Hong Kong claim Muzo is also their product, but no more detail willing to give.

    • Haven’t heard of this one yet, but doesn’t look promising. Definitely will look into it since you brought it up.

      Would love to see the updates if you were a backer. You can find my contact info on the homepage.

      • Not necessary directly related to these scam brothers, but just by looking at Muzo, it has all the tell-tale signs of a scam scheme. Remember Nbition? It is consulting/teaching other ppl to formulate a crowdfunding scam scheme (i.e., how to set up a company, making convincing material to put on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, how to make noise within tech communities, where to place ads, etc.; so much so it seems they even had HK government departments to back their claims.) If you really pay attention and read between the lines, they seems to follow the same “template” to carry out the crowdfunding process.

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