Cosplayers & Crowdfunding: Not a Good Idea

For most, #costuming & #cosplay is a hobby. As such, should #crowdfunding be used to support the activity? Over the past few years, a number of #costumers & #cosplayers have resorted to the practice of #crowdfunding to support their hobby, often citing that the intent is to attend fundraising events in #costume to raise money for charity. In other words, they want charity from others to raise money for charity. 

Now, if you reside in the United States and periodically donate money to charities that are registers non-profit organizations, those donations are tax-deductible. However, money given to individuals in pursuit of a hobby is not. That is simply a cash gift being made to an individual who may or may not use it for the purpose cited in the crowdfunding advert they wrote to obtain the monetary gifts. 

Crowdfunding is a wonderful tool. When someone is trying to start a business or is in financial trouble and is desperately seeking money to make ends meet because of an unexpected costly life event (such as a medical problem, uninsured property damage, etc.), then crowdfunding is an excellent way for such individuals to start the business or to potentially stay financially afloat until they get back on their feet. 

However, is the pursuit of a personal hobby (such as costuming & cosplay) similarly worthy of asking others to fund it through the use of crowdfunding? In our personal opinion, no it is not

Cosplayer Ani-Mia posted on this subject on her personal Facebook page on May 11, 2015. Below is an excerpt from her post that she wrote. (Warning: some may find it upsetting.)

“Cosplayers, it is not the responsibilities of your fans to pay for your next costume, to send you on a trip or to a con. That is called personal financial responsibility. And before the arguments begin let me tell you that this is all coming from someone who sees so much behind the scenes garbage that fans and contributors don’t see. What you don’t see is that many cosplayers that do this spend their money frivolously on unnecessary wants, meals out and events with friends; say they are broke but then conveniently are able to attend a convention for fun and a slew of other lies that make me so ashamed at what this community is becoming.”


We agree completely with the substance of Ani-Mia’s Facebook page post and want to focus on one item in particular: personal financial responsibility. What is personal financial responsibility? According to Investopedia

“What does it mean to be financially responsible? It’s a complex question with a complex answer, but at its core is a simple truth: to be financially responsible, you need to live within your means. And to live within your means, you must spend less than you make!”

When a costumer or cosplayer sets up a personal crowdfunding campaign to support their hobby, here’s what that is actually saying: that the costumer or cosplayer is NOT living within their means

Let’s compare crowdfunding for an individual with donating money to a registered non-profit. 

In the United States, registered non-profit organizations are governed by federal law called 501(c)(3). At the core of any organization that is registered under 501(c)(3), there are strict regulations that must be met at all times:

“501(c)(3) organizations are highly regulated entities. Strict rules apply to both the activities and the governance of these organizations. No part of the activities or the net earnings can unfairly benefit any director, officer, or any private individual, and no officer or private individual can share in the distribution of any of the corporate assets in the event the organization shuts down.”

And from the IRS’s own website is the following:

“The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”

(In the above quote, the word “inure” in a legal sense means “benefit, advantage to an individual”.)

Thus, when a costumer or cosplayer sets up a crowdfunding site to get monetary gifts from people to support their costuming & cosplaying activities, it is diametrically opposed to how a 501(c)(3) must operate, especially when the excuse that the costumer or cosplayer makes in the crowdfunding request is to enable them to spend time in costume as a way to help an actual 501(c)(3) to raise money for its charitable cause. 

Let’s make one more comparison between giving money to a costumer or cosplayer to support their hobby with giving money to a registered 501(c)(3) charity. How can a 501(c)(3) spend the money it collects from donations? This is answered by the law that governs how a 501(c)(3) can operate:

“To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3)…”

And what are those exempt purposes? The law clearly defines them:

“The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.”

By comparison, when a costumer or cosplayer starts a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to support their hobby, what obligates the costumer or cosplayer to spend any money raised solely on the hobby? Nothing. Let’s repeat that: with the exception of securitiesthere are no laws that require someone who initiates a crowdfunding campaign to use the money raised for the purpose specified in the crowdfunding campaign.

But how about any rules that crowdfunding websites might have? Let’s examine what is written on the popular GoFundMe website regarding whether it’s safe to donate to someone:

“With hundreds of thousands of campaigns, it’s not feasible for GoFundMe to investigate the claims stated by each Campaign Organizer. Rather, we provide visitors with the tools to make an informed decision as to who they choose to support. While GoFundMe and its payment partners do provide a number of safeguards to deter fraud, we must insist that visitors follow the advice stated on each and every campaign. ‘Only donate to people you personally know & trust.'”

In other words, any money you give on a crowdfunding website is at your own risk. 

While you can be reasonably sure that at least part of the money you donate to a legitimate charity will be spent on helping who the charity claims to help, there is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that money given to a cosplayer or costumer via a personal crowdfunding campaign will be used for the intended purpose. 

In our humble opinion, if you really want to help others, donating money to an actual charity is a much better idea than giving monetary gifts to a costumer or cosplayer. If you give money to a costumer or cosplayer who has started a personal crowdfunding campaign to benefit themselves, you may be making yourself to be an enabler. What’s an enabler?

An enabler is “one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior…by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.”

In other words, by sending money to a costumer or cosplayer who has started a personal crowdfunding campaign, you may be enabling them to continue self-destructive behavior that encourages them to live in a financially irresponsible manner. 

Finally, if you are a costumer or cosplayer considering a personal crowdfunding campaign to support your hobby, in our humble opinion, don’t. Instead, find ways to lower your own personal spending & expenses (especially frivolous ones) before asking others for financial support. If you start a personal crowdfunding campaign to pay for your costuming & cosplay hobby, you may be telling others that you are living in a financially irresponsible manner. Is that the message that you want to send? Just food for thought. 

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Masked “Star Wars” Costumed Student Prompts School Evacuation

WI: freshman student wearing a masked #StarWars stormtrooper #costume to a public school prompted a school evacuation. The student, wanting to celebrate #MayThe4thBeWithYou (a popular date with “Star Wars” fans to celebrate the franchise due to the date’s similarity to the well-known “May the Force be with you” line that’s often said in the movies) as a way to express his love of the franchise, instead caused a concerned parent to contact police and prompted a school evacuation.

As we have posted multiple times before on our Facebook page, it’s not always appropriate to wear a costume in public. Public schools are an especially inappropriate place to wear a costume due to the emphasis on student and staff safety, and wearing a costume unannounced (especially a masked one), combined with a backpack, can lead to an immediate concern for the safety of the students and staff as it can easily be perceived as being a potential shooter situation.

The parent who observed the freshman student entering a back door of the Ashwaubenon High School and called police did the right thing. The nature of the costume also gave the impression of a possible bullet-proof vest or flak jacket being worn underneath. However, once police and school administrators understood the costumed student’s reason for wearing the costume, they treated it as an honest mistake and the evacuation ended an hour later with students allowed back into the school.

Costume & Prop Makers Beware: Buyer Fraud

An ongoing issue facing the #costuming & #cosplay communities is #BuyerFraud. Buyer fraud is a widespread problem occurring with online purchases, so while it isn’t limited to the costuming & cosplay communities, it can have highly detrimental financial effects on #costume & prop makers, as well as their desire to continue selling their items at all.

So what exactly is “buyer fraud”?  Buyer fraud is a term used to describe the unethical actions of buyers upon or after making a purchase from a seller that are usually costly to sellers and are often of no consequence to the buyer. Usually these types of unethical actions that the fraudulent buyer uses are directed towards sellers who conduct business via the Internet.

Common Types of Buyer Fraud

Three common types of buyer fraud are listed below, including preemptive strategies that sellers can use to reduce the likelihood of being scammed:

1. The “Product Was Not Delivered” Scam

Sure, sometimes packages do get lost, but it’s also a scam and it’s probably the most common type of buyer fraud that costume & prop makers (and other online sellers) face.

In this scam, the fraudulent buyer will make a claim that the product that they purchased was never delivered after it was received, even though the seller may have tracking information to the contrary that the item was indeed delivered to the buyer’s address. The fraudulent buyer will then make a “no delivery” claim to their financial institution that they used to make the transaction, which (in all likelihood) will refund the money for the sale to the fraudulent buyer. And where does that refunded money come from? Directly from the financial institution account owned by the seller.

A financial institution that has become well known with permitting widespread buyer fraud is PayPal. Many costume & prop makers (as well as other sellers) have stopped taking payments via PayPal because of its very pro-buyer policies that have permitted buyer fraud to thrive. When a fraudulent buyer makes a claim against a seller via PayPal, PayPal will immediately freeze the seller’s PayPal account (often for several weeks to a month), which makes other sales impossible if that’s the seller’s only means of taking payments. Also, even if the seller has ample proof of delivery via tracking to the buyer’s address, PayPal will typically award the fraudulent buyer with a refund and take the funds away from the seller, as well as any bank account linked to the seller’s PayPal account.

An effective (but not foolproof) method that sellers can use to avoid becoming a victim of buyer fraud is to require a signature from the buyer upon delivery. When a buyer has to physically sign his/her name for a received package, not only does it show undeniable proof of delivery, it also removes the online anonymity that many fraudulent buyers try to maintain. While the signature doesn’t mean that the fraudulent buyer can still not make a fraudulent claim against the seller, it’s a deterrent. It also isn’t a foolproof guarantee to a seller that the financial institution(s) that handled the transaction won’t issue a refund to the fraudulent buyer against the seller if the fraudulent buyer files a complaint anyway.

2. The “Damaged Item” Scam

Sure, packages and their contents might be damaged during shipment, but in this scam, the fraudulent buyer will return an item to a seller & making the false claim that the item received was damaged when it never was. When this happens, the financial institution will refund money to the buyer while the buyer sends something else back to the seller. So the seller not only loses the item and money, the seller gets something of little or no value in return.

Some costume & prop makers have been subjected to this type false damage claim in order to get a refund at the costume & prop makers’ expense. In this particular case, any costume or prop maker needs to be completely familiar with the buyer & seller agreements that marketplace & financial institutions have in place for these types of problems. While that won’t guarantee that a fraudulent buyer won’t win a claim in this situation, it can greatly increase the ability of the seller to fight the claim and prevent being defrauded.

3. The “Item Not As Described” Scam

Occasionally this can happen, but it’s also a popular & similar scam to the “damaged item” scam.

In this scam the fraudulent buyer will make the claim that the item received from the seller was not as the seller described. This can be an extremely difficult type of buyer fraud for a seller to defend against because what it will boil down to is the buyer’s word against the seller’s word. Often, the greater burden of proof lays with the seller, not the buyer. Thus, if the seller doesn’t have an adequate way to describe the product sold to the buyer, the financial institutions will rule in favor of the fraudulent buyer and reward a refund at the seller’s expense.

Here, the seller’s best defense is to have a very accurate way to show proof of what was sent to the buyer. Taking pictures of the product(s) and shipment labels is a good step to add as proof. Also, invoices describing what was sold and what the package(s) contained is effective in winning these types of disputes, especially if there are product and serial numbers recorded on the invoices. That way, if any items received back from the buyer don’t match the invoiced items sent, the seller has the option of filing criminal charges against the fraudulent buyer, which may or may not assist in getting the money back or the originally sent product(s) from the buyer.

Summary of Preemptive Seller Strategies

  1. A deterrent: don’t just rely on tracking information that a package was delivered, require a signature from the buyer.
  2. Be prepared to defend yourself: be completely familiar with the buyer & seller policies of the marketplace, financial institutions & shippers before you use them. The more familiar you are with their policies, the easier it will be to defend yourself against any false claims brought by a fraudulent buyer.
  3. Keep accurate records: use detailed invoices of what was sent, especially if there are product and serial number that can be recorded on the invoices. Take pictures of the items sent and shipping labels. Record all contact information about the buyers.

Some Additional Potential Preemptive Seller Strategies

  1. Protect your assets: open a separate bank account for product sales. In this way, your personal bank account(s) won’t be directly affected if a fraudulent buyer files a claim against you.
  2. Another method of protecting personal assets: consider only taking payments via money orders or cashier’s checks from first time buyers. Since the bulk of the buyer fraud occurs with online transactions, taking money orders or cashier’s checks avoids that situation completely. Once you feel comfortable with a buyer, you could permit online transactions once trust is established.
  3. Avoid financial institutions with known buyer-biased policies: don’t use PayPal for any transactions.
  4. Limit your liability: consider establishing an actual LLC (a Limited Liability Company) to more fully protect yourself and your personal assets. If you create an LLC, while you will have to file corporate tax returns, collect sales tax and file other financial reports as required by law, any business done by the LLC (such as selling to buyers) becomes a transaction between the buyer and the LLC, not the buyer and you personally. Also, you can open bank accounts in the LLC’s name.
  5. Share information: share information about fraudulent buyers with other costume & prop makers. Everyone sharing information can avoid problems in the future.

Potential Criminal Charges for Caught Fraudulent Buyers

While it doesn’t happen often, buyers who have committed fraud can face potential criminal charges. Often this is in the form of a misdemeanor theft charges, but if the amount of money involved in the transaction was higher maximum amount for a misdemeanor charge, the criminal charges can become felony grand theft or other felony charges. While many states place a limit of $500 on misdemeanor theft, some states go as low as $300. In other words, if a buyer can prove that a fraudulent buyer stole from them and the dollar amount exceeds $300 in the buyer’s state, that fraudulent buyer would then face felony theft charges.

While it may be difficult for a defrauded seller to get their stolen money back, if they have sufficient proof that a theft occurred, then contacting the police can lead to potential criminal charges being filed against the buyer. What the seller needs in order to do this successfully is very good documentation of the transaction (as we discussed above), and any other evidence that can undeniably show that a crime was committed.

A prime example is if delivery of a package was recorded on video. If video exists of the buyer accepting delivery of a package from a seller and signing for that package, that would be highly undeniable proof of a crime committed should that buyer attempt to defraud the seller over delivery of the package. We actually know of one such case (not costume related) in which a fraudulent buyer was recently arrested and is now facing felony grand theft charges for claiming that a package worth well over the maximum amount for a misdemeanor theft was never delivered. The reason: the delivery of the package was caught on video by a neighbor’s security camera and provided as evidence.

If you are a costume or prop maker that has been defrauded by a fraudulent buyer, chances are that fraudulent buyer has done it before to other sellers. If you have proof (hopefully undeniable proof) that a crime was committed, then contacting police will not only potentially result in a conviction of the fraudulent buyer, it will prevent other sellers from falling victim to that fraudulent buyer in the future.

Defrauded Seller Testimonies on YouTube

While these testimonials involved eBay and Amazon, the same things can happen when the sale did not involve either.

1. Harvested Parts, Item Returned Very Damaged

Commodore 64 computer in visually good condition when sold by seller was harvested for parts by the fraudulent buyer, who later claimed that the computer was in very poor condition and won the eBay complaint against the seller:

2. Seller Won Fraud Case

Person who sold $350 doll won case against a fraudulent buyer who filed a fraudulent claim.

3. Seller Defrauded over $50 Gift Card

Seller defrauded over $50 gift card sale to fraudulent buyer:

4. Fraudulent Buyer Returned Empty Box

Seller defrauded by Amazon buyer who returned an empty box. Total loss: $600 after Amazon refunded the fraudulent buyer.

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More on the Cancellation of the 2017 Rocky Mountain Fur Con

After posting on April 16, 2017 about the cancellation of the 2017 #RockyMountainFurCon (#RMFC), we viewed several YouTube videos on the subject from varying points of view. After going through each of them, we found that one posted by a furry named Roo on his YouTube channel called Rooview provided the most complete & unbiased description of not only the cancellation of RMFC, but also the complex chain of events from multiple directions that lead to its demise.

While the video is over 35 minutes in length, we highly recommend viewing it in its entirety for anyone who wants a much more complete understanding of what lead to the cancellation of RMFC. The thing to remember here is that what lead to the demise of this particular convention could occur at any convention; the type of drama and conflict that destroyed RMFC is not limited to the furry community as we’ve seen similar levels of conflict & drama destroy #costuming & #cosplay groups well outside the furry community. Some of which lead to the destruction of entire #CostumeClub chapters and even one costume club altogether.

Unresolved drama and conflict that is allowed to exponentially spiral out of control is a recipe for disaster in any situation; but when conflicting parties are willing to calmly discuss their differences and be open to accepting compromises, disaster can usually be averted. Sadly, RMFC is an example of the former, not the latter; combined with (in our opinion) poor convention management that:

  1. Failed to adequately address concerns with the furry group named “Furry Raiders” and its founder Foxler Nightfire, who wears a Nazi-like armband as part of his furry costume.
  2. Failed to extricate itself completely from the convicted felon (Kendal Emery, a.k.a. Kahuki,) who had originally founded the convention 10 years earlier and who had been removed from leading it in 2008.
  3. Lost its non-profit status several years earlier,
  4. Allowed Kahuki to send a “cease and desist” letter that cited non-existent laws as a way to intimidate and threaten an individual in another state (Deo) with loss of property, among other things, including being consistent with the anti-government “Sovereign Citizens” movement.

In response, Deo shared the threatening “cease and desist” letter publicly on April 10, 2017, which is what prompted the RMFC management to cancel the convention. The “cease and desist” letter (in our opinion) served only to damage the credibility of the RMFC management because:

  1. If they didn’t know the letter was sent, then there was a complete breakdown in internal communication.
  2. Or, if they did know about the letter, then they should have prevented it from being sent in the first place given that it cited non-existent laws and was highly threatening.

As we said in our original post on April 16, 2017:

Please leave your personal beliefs and politics out of costuming & cosplay. When it comes to symbolism used in custom costumes, using highly controversial and potentially upsetting political or religious symbolism or something that closely resembles it in a costume is really not a good idea. This is why costume clubs don’t permit politics & religion in their groups. It only leads to problems.

Referenced Articles & Videos:

 

2017 Rocky Mountain Fur Con Canceled

The 2017 #RockyMountainFurCon has been canceled. The #RMFC board of directors that was organizing the 10th annual event posted a statement this past Monday (April 10, 2017), which we have quoted below:

“The furry community and Rocky Mountain Fur Con have always strived to be a place of inclusion; a place where furs from all walks of life, differing religious, political, social and personal views can come together to celebrate the thing that we have in common, the love of our fandom.

Recently, members of our community have taken it upon themselves to bring in external influences of hate, intolerance, and stubborn refusal to compromise. This movement has grown into a community that promotes violence, and it is because of that, it is with deep regret that I make the following announcement:

Last month, we were faced with a sudden and drastic increase in security costs amounting to more than a third of our entire existing operating budget. This cost increase stemmed directly from the very public threats of violence against one another by members of this community,  as well as the negative backlash from misinformation spread about the convention, its staff and attendees. Therefore, Rocky Mountain Fur Con 2017 is officially canceled.”

Sadly, the statement is the only part of the fur con’s website that remains.

While the fur con chairman did not directly mention the group being blamed for this in the cancellation statement, Rolling Stone listed that the source: a group within the furry community calling itself the “Furry Raiders”, which Rolling Stone described as “an outlier group within the anthropomorphic subculture” and whose founder (shown below in his “Foxler Nightfire” furry persona) has chosen to wear a red armband with a black paw print over a white circle.

furries-denver-conference-canceled-19c73c80-7108-4967-927d-05933bd57193

The armband bears a very strong resemblance to those worn by members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (otherwise known as Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or the Nazi Party for short) that was founded by Adolf Hitler and operated in Germany between 1920 and 1945. Various Nazi uniforms included a red armband with the infamous black swastika symbol over a white circle, as illustrated in these Nazi-era uniforms that are located in the Imperial War Museum in London:

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While Foxler Nightfire denies any connection between his armband and those worn by members of the Nazi Party (and also worn by many Neo-Nazis today), the only difference between his and actual Nazi armband was his replacement of a black paw print in place of the swastika.

Also according to the Rolling Stone article and one posted by Dogpatch Press, the “Furry Raiders” were being characterized by various online forums as a “neo-nazi cult-like group”. Also, Vice had posted an article earlier in 2017 that members of Colorado’s furry community were fighting neo-Nazis.

Then, while responding to a friend on Twitter, a furry in another state named Deo (who had never attended RMFC) tweeted that neo-Nazis should be punched. According to Deo, this had nothing to do with what was occurring in Colorado or with the “Furry Raiders”, but a member of the “Furry Raiders” read Deo’s tweet and responded by not only threatening to shoot Deo, but appeared to be threatening to bring a gun to the 2017 Rocky Mountain Fur Con itself.

Here’s where things get bad. After Deo reported the threat to Twitter, Twitter deleted the Twitter account belonging to the member of the “Furry Raiders”. She also contacted the RMFC, which we will describe by quoting directly from Rolling Stone:

“In January, Deo reached out to the RMFC board via Twitter and sent an email to their security team to report the threats, she tells Rolling Stone through Twitter. There was no response until April 3rd when she received a letter from Kendal Emery aka Kahuki, a board member of MAAAC and RMFC, who personally sent a cease and desist letter to Deo’s house.”

And who is Kahuki? He’s the original founder and former chairman of the board of directors of the Rocky Mountain Fur Con. But why isn’t he still the RMFC chairman? Apparently, he was removed from the position in 2008 after it was revealed that Kahuki (a.k.a., Kendal Emery) has a felony conviction in 1993 of Criminal Sexual Contact with a Minor. As for the letter that Kahuki sent to Deo, he attempted to make it appear to have been written by an attorney by listing a non-existent law, use of incorrectly spelled Latin and threats against her home. It also contained “dog-whistle” language and a red finger print indicative of a government-known racist group known as “Sovereign Citizens”.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, members of “Sovereign Citizens” believe they “get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore”, are “rooted in racism and anti-Semitism,” and do “acts of deadly violence”.

In response, Deo not only contacted police in her home state and a Colorado attorney, she went public with the letter on April 10, 2017. This is the day that the RMFC board of directors learned about the letter and chose to cancel the event.

Folks, we can only say this: please leave your personal beliefs and politics out of costuming & cosplay. When it comes to symbolism used in custom costumes, using highly controversial and potentially upsetting political or religious symbolism or something that closely resembles it in a costume is really not a good idea. This is why costume clubs don’t permit politics & religion in their groups. It only leads to problems.

As for what lead to the cancellation of Rocky Mountain Fur Con 2017, you will have to use your own judgement as to who to believe in this complicated situation. Regardless of who is believed, several thousand furries have lost a convention, which is highly unfortunate as it’s not the only furry convention to disappear recently. This is what happens when the negative acts of a few destroy something for the many. As we’ve posted before, there are no winners when it comes to cosplay drama.

Costuming Community Drama

Referenced Articles: