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Red Flags and How to Spot Them

Names have been changed, but this is a dramatization of an actual situation recently handled by Patreon’s Trust and Safety Team.

Meet “Wyatt.” Wyatt has been a Patreon creator for about a year. He streams play-throughs of various zombie and horror-themed video games, and he’s very good at what he does. Because of his dedication and his regular upload schedule, he has seen a steady increase in his Patreon pledges, and he’s doing pretty well. He’s not at the level where he can support himself full-time by streaming, but he’s getting there.

And then, out of nowhere, he receives a $5,000 pledge from a new patron named “Billy.” Frankly, Wyatt is ecstatic! What a surprise! Wow! Billy must think I’m pretty great.

Considering the tiers listed on Wyatt’s page range from $5 a month to $35 a month, this giant pledge was a pleasant surprise to say the least. He’s immediately thinking about all the great, new equipment he can buy, and the new games he can test out for his patrons. And since this is a monthly donation, he’s thinking about the lovely house he can buy with the white picket fence overlooking a lake, in the mountains....

What’s wrong with this picture?

Reader — if you thought his scenario seemed too good to be true, you’d be right. It’s not that we don’t think Wyatt deserves a $5000/month pledge, we absolutely believe he does!

Unfortunately, as Clint Eastwood’s character in the classic Western Unforgiven said, “Deserve's got nothing to do with it” — what’s most important is protecting creators and patrons from fraud, and in this case, something fishy was going on.

Here’s what happened to Wyatt next: when he went to the payout section of his Patreon to withdraw the funds he received from this new patron, he received a notification that his account was being reviewed by the Trust and Safety team.

So why is this notification helpful?

We are not here to remove legitimate pledges away from creators, nor are we here to make life difficult for anyone, creator or patron. That said, we have ways to determine if a pledge is legitimate, or potentially fraudulent, and this pledge raised a few red flags.

To help you spot suspicious activity on your Patreon, here are some things to look out for when evaluating a pledge:

1. New patron pledging a large amount.

If you receive an unusually large pledge from a patron you don’t know, that could be a clue that the pledge is fraudulent. Take Wyatt’s case, for example. While there is no industry standard for what streamers make, it’s an unusual scenario for a relatively new streamer to receive $5,000 a month from a single patron. Also, Wyatt’s patron didn’t reach out to him via email or his stream to let him know this pledge was coming, which is also unusual.

2. Pledging out of Tier:

Also, be on the look out for pledges that aren’t within the range of your Patreon tiers. For instance, since Wyatt’s tiers range between $5 to $35 a month, a pledge of $5,000 is way outside of that, which could be a sign that something strange is going on.

Keep in mind that an unusually large pledge amount, like the one Wyatt received, could be the result of an accident rather than something nefarious. Sometimes, a patron will accidentally tack on an extra zero to their pledge. But when this happens, patrons usually reach out to us immediately to try and correct the problem. And we do have a procedure for that. However, in Wyatt’s case, we weren’t contacted by him or his patron.

What happened next?

When one of our teammates reached out to Wyatt to explain our concerns with this pledge, Wyatt let us know that he was surprised by the pledge too. He explained that, while he didn’t actually have a tier or content to justify a $5,000 pledge, he was very, very glad to have generous patrons like Billy. Based on Wyatt’s history with us, it was easy to see that he had a legitimate following as a streamer, and was communicating with us in good faith.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his patron, Billy. While we don’t want to get into the details of Billy’s scheme and give aspiring fraudsters any ideas, we were fairly confident early on that this pledge was not valid. Sadly, that turned out to be the case, and ultimately, the pledge was refunded. We let Wyatt know, and while he was obviously disappointed, in the end, he was happy to have the issue cleared up so he could get back to his streaming channel.

So, what can you as a creator do to make sure the pledges you are receiving are legitimate?

We wanted to share this scenario to give you some tools, so you could look over your pledges with a discerning eye. One of the most difficult situations we encounter is letting a creator know that a pledge was reversed due to suspicious or potentially fraudulent activity.

If a gut feeling is telling you something is off with a pledge or patron, there’s a good chance something may very well be not right. The old adage “if something is too good to be true it probably is” applies here. Is it reasonable to think that Wyatt received a potentially life-changing pledge with no warning, out of the blue? It does happen, and it’s wonderful when it does, but from this end of the business, we can tell you that it’s rare.

We’re here to help you sort these cases out, so if you ever have any questions regarding a patron or a pledge you recently received, contact us and we’ll look into it for you. (email us at [email protected]).

Also, if you’d like more information on how and why fraud occurs on the internet, as well as the different types of fraud that internet users have encountered, please visit the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint center.

We’re happy that Wyatt continues to use Patreon, and we earnestly hope that one day, he’ll be able to support himself solely on his earnings as a creator. And while he does that, Trust and Safety will continue to partner with him, to help him keep creating, and keep the “”Billys” of the world out of his stream.

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