YouTuber Reminds Fans How Much Fake Donations Can Hurt

In a heated video yesterday, professional streamer and YouTuber Desmond Etika Amofah issued a warning against against viewers who "fuck with me, fuck with my money, or fuck with my life". Amofah, a big personality in the Nintendo community, displayed five recent donations to his Twitch stream, each in quantities of $US50 ($66) or $US100 ($133). Then, he showed five corresponding disputes against those charges in his PayPal account. The viewer had demanded back the money they donated, and in the process, slammed Amofah with a hundred bucks in processing fees.

Illustration by Jim Cooke

"For content creators like myself and many others who suffer from a problem like this, it also fucks up our lives since everything I do is through PayPal," Amofah said.

"Chargebacks", as they're called, are requests for credit card companies to refund money given to someone through an apparently fraudulent transaction. Over the last few years, streamers, whose livings are often built on PayPal transactions, have become increasingly frustrated as trolls or viewers weaponise chargebacks against them. Maybe a viewer wants a shout-out after giving a streamer big money, but can't afford it. Or maybe some jerk just wants to piss off a streamer by forcing them to lose money. Most popular streamers have dealt with chargebacks -- the thrill of a huge donation, the disappointment when it's refunded and the anger when their PayPal account incurs a fee.

Chargebacks are possible because PayPal wants to protect users from fraud. So, for example, someone could donate a large sum with a stolen credit card. That card's true owner has the power to contest the charge if they can prove that something dirty went down. But if they can't, the charge will go through. Last year, a Twitch viewer and naive 18-year-old named iNexus_Ninja donated nearly $US50,000 ($66,295) to a handful of streamers with his parents' credit card. (After receiving about $US11,500 [$15,250] of that money, streamer LegendaryLea started dancing around her house.) INexus_Ninja was planning on charging back the money, but wanted to give the streamers time to blow a few thousand first. That way, he'd do some real damage by forcing it out of their pockets. Unfortunately for him, PayPal refused to pay it back.

Kaceytron, another big streamer, gets about a half dozen chargebacks each month, often after small donations. In 2013, when she started streaming, she sometimes received donations up to $US1000 ($1326) that were subsequently charged back. Over the phone, Kaceytron recalled how after a series of sketchy transactions, her PayPal account was frozen. "That was two to three weeks I didn't get donations at all," Kaceytron said. "That sucked and affected me pretty bad."

Chargebacks are particularly troubling when streamers don't keep a bunch of money in their PayPal account. If you spend the money given in a chargeback, and don't have the full amount available to return, your account could go into the negatives. Kaceytron says that's never happened to her because she always keeps a big balance there. But fees aren't even the end of it. When streamers use their PayPal accounts as proof of income to, say, get an apartment, frequent chargebacks and negative balances look pretty bad.

Back in April, on Twitch, Amofah paused his stream after someone donated $US200 ($265), joking, "Don't worry I won't charge back :)." Amofah stressed to viewers: "When you're a smaller channel and you have that problem, and you don't have it as good as I do... PayPal freezes your account. Not only that, but they can actually relinquish the funds for the chargeback and the chargeback fees and anything extra they want to tack on from any bank account, credit card of debit card linked to your PayPal."

Twitch's hands are tied when it comes to stomping out chargebacks on PayPal because it's a third-party tool. Aaron Kelly, Twitch's customer support manager, told Kotaku that they don't comment on PayPal's methods, but they're focusing on launching in-app monetisation tools. PayPal did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Amofah says that, after hours on the phone with PayPal, he helped them understand how chargebacks affect his ability to make a living. So, now he believes that PayPal is on his side, helping to ward off troll donations. Streamers with less access to PayPal might not be so lucky. Over email, Amofah told me that "As painful as it sounds, streamers suffering from this chargeback issue have to put themselves through the wringer, and hound PayPal until their voices are heard. Big or small, it makes no difference, and it's unfortunate that that's the only option we have."


Comments

    maybe dont use sketchy donations or this method of transaction as it can be hacked or duped

    get yourselves some proper patreon subscribers or some other way

    swearing is also not cool especially when its directed at your fan base ( yeah ill buck with you)

      Yeah, it's totally their fault.

        it is snowy... these people dont have control over their finantials... are giving out their bank address

        and then wondering why they are 900 dollars in debt

        tighten TFU

      Fuck me she swore? Well shit on a brick thats pretty shitty.

    While I agree with the sentiment, I think this demonstrates the fragility of streamer income and fame. It's a donation system that relies on gimmicks like shoutouts and text to speech events, and the people throwing cash are typically communities that attract trolls. I don't know if this can be fixed. Even Patreon can be fraught with uncertainty - do something people don't like and watch everyone pull out.

      Hmm. I don't think that's quite fair to say. The donation system is fine, and it being irregular and unreliable is fine. Giving people false hope by giving money and then taking it back is bad enough, but what really isn't fine is the extra fees on top and all the other penalties that come with it. PayPal needs a way to detect and police people abusing this feature and shift the cost to them, not the streamers.

        That wasn't my actual point - I agree with what the guy is saying and that the people doing this are dicks. But I think this sort of behaviour is representative of the kinds of trash that streamers attract, and I think issues regarding donations are going to be an ongoing thing. The entire system encourages trolls and disruptive behaviour (see also: Swatting). If a streamer actively encourages donations with 'perks' (e.g. shoutouts, TTS lines, etc) it's trollbait (at the troll's expense I guess).

        Again, I don't disagree with him that people exploiting a protective features are dickheads. I'm just noting that it seems like every week there's a drama in the streaming community that directly seems to arise from the actions of trolls or socially inept/awkward viewers. I don't know if we can ever fix that.

          If the trolls requesting chargebacks which are not valid are hit with the $100 penalty, that would be a start to stopping this kind of behaviour.

            I'm speaking in general, not just for chargebacks. That's relatively simple to investigate and disprove.

    Why anyone would pay to watch someone play video games will alway be a source of confusion and sadness for me.

      and then pay them $200 to have their name read out in 2 seconds...

      I am with you on this one

      Same. Utterly baffling, particularly regarding the size of some of the donations.

      My nephew does it and I am like mate, just play the game.

      Thats like saying why do people enjoy watching professional sports and not just go out n get gud to play.

      Sure watching the particular game may not be exciting for you personally but some folks do enjoy the mechanics and skill involved in a game that they personally can't physically do.

      Its like watching chess or ballroom dancing... stuff i find personally as exciting as watching paint dry. But they still have an audience and im not gonna hold it against them

      I can only imagine you've never watched TV, listened to radio, read any books etc. It's simply a different medium of entertainment.

      Go yell at some kids who are on your lawn.

        I do those things sure.

        I just don't watch people watching TV or reading a book.

        Movies, books, TV and Video games are the medium.

    Presumably the alternative payment processing system will be Amazon, given that they own Twitch. That could actually work a lot better, since they'd be able to link the payment disputes directly to the Twitch user: and sanction those people who are abusing the system (e.g. stop letting them make donations, block them entirely, etc).

    I'm not terribly familiar with Twitch, but I get the feeling that accepting bitcoin for donations might alleviate this problem. I don't think chargebacks are possible that way.

    Scary that calling this out actually makes it more common knowledge, meaning more viewers with grudges can now easily exploit it. I'd expect more reports of this happening soon unfortunately, expect to hear of it becoming the next alternative to "swatting".

    Also, people continue to be terrible.

    how bout, um just get a proper job instead of relying on strangers money?

    "You there, what is your profession?"
    "i'm a professional youtuber, send me money!"
    THIS IS SPARTA *Kick*

    whatever... This is just more re-affirmation that most you tube celebrities (content creators is being too kind for the job they have) have no idea about the real world. Do they realise that getting paid is the bane of every company? They complain about not getting their $50 when some companies can't pay their whole 20 odd staff because a multinational company is holding out on paying their invoice. If you are an independant, a free lancer or anyone who performs a service, expect to be not paid sometimes. Is it shitty? Yes, but it is something that every company deals with, so you need to take it as a given. You are not a unique flower. You are just an ordunary person who thinks the world owes you something and that peiple actually give a frig about your mundane life.

      spelling!

      Youve missed the point. They are not complaining about loosing the 50 or whatever from the fake donation.

      You cant loose what you never had. The problem is that they get hit by a double whammy of a fee that needs to be paid and a bad credit record because Chargebacks count as fraudulent purchases. So not only did they not get money they have to PAY to return the money (ie. They loose money) that was never given and get a bad crddit record.... because some tool decided to abuse an anti fraud feature.

    It's not just streamers.. I get a lot of fake buyers on eBay, or incorrect address, or they change their mind... Every time i have to cancel an order, that attracts a fee. Even though it is the buyer at fault! I've complained to PayPal about it and they say too bad.

      Exactly the problem here that people are missing...

      Everyone is like tough shit you're a youtuber get a real job and missijg the point fraudulent chsrgeback screws everyone over... heck do we even need to bring up the whole issue of stolen steam keys from a while back? Thats also the same problem

        take on the banks then

        fat chance m8

    Guarantee PayPal are not on his side and will not be giving him any extra attention. They just told him what he wanted to hear to get him off the phone.

    This wouldn't be such an issue if these people just got real jobs and did this stuff as a hobby. I will always be baffled as to why people are willing to fund someone to play videogames all day.

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