At the start of 2019 I went to CES in Las Vegas for work and saw tons of the latest gizmos and gadgets. I’m sure you’ve probably seen other videos showcasing other people’s favorite picks.
One company I found relevant to my videos and content was called ForwardX with their smart carry on that followed you around. It had motors built into the wheels and I got a hands on demonstration of it.
Really cool stuff, but not available for purchase yet. Fast forward to November and I saw an ad on Instagram for a smart-suitcase that would not only follow you around, but you could ride on it!
My inner nerd was getting ready to have a heart attack. Thinking about the amount of fun I would have riding around the airport was enough to get me to jump on the $300 Christmas Special without a second of hesitation.
This was a crowdfunded project and given the new-ness of smart luggage, it seemed legitimate to me. The crowdfunding was being done on Indiegogo and everything seemed okay, from the whole 30 second scan of the listing I did.
Sure the video was a little corny with the lame sound effects, but it didn’t look fake and a good amount of effort was put into making the listing. No red flags.
According to the ad and the indiegogo listing, the bag would be in my hands by Christmas, so I waited patiently. Between the time I ordered and the time Christmas came, I had received 4 updates.
- November 19th - Product Certifications from the FCC and some other regulatory agent
- November 25th - The campaign is over, thank you for all of your support, we will be shipping orders out very soon.
- December 13th - Factory Production Insights Video
The final update came on December 20th, saying production has been slower than expected and shipping is scheduled to leave the factory at the end of January. Again, no big deal I thought.
- January 15th, I received another update with the ship and port information:
Shipment for U.S. Backers
Ship Name: ITAL UNIVERSO
Voyage : 1124-140E
Bill of Lading No.: TSL20010266
Estimate time to arrive at Port of Los Angeles: 02/02/2020
Shipment for EU Backers
Ship Name: EVER GREET
Voyage : 1070-002W
Bill of Lading No.: 149905664212
Estimate time to arrive at Port of Felixstowe: 02/15/2020
Sounds great, I’ll have it by the time I leave for Arizona. Spoiler alert, I didn’t. Again, I didn’t think much of it, Chinese New Year was at the end of January and then the Corona Virus outbreak caused even more issues across all goods coming out of China.
The Valentine’s Day Update
On Valentine’s Day I received this latest and final update. Before the bag would be shipped to us, we were required to pay the tariff fee the bags supposedly incurred, but were never informed about until now. Per bag, the tariff was around $135 and we were instructed to send it via wire or Paypal.
This is where everything started looking fishy….
One, how was the company not aware of the tariff charges previously and why am I just now being informed of it? Two, why is the payment being requested via Paypal or wire, for money that goes to the US government?
Learning Through Research
At this point, I decided to start doing some more research. Here’s what I found:
You can buy it right now
To start, you can go and buy this carry-on right now on doscout.com. Which appears to be related to the same company, since the other projects they’ve listed on crowdfunding sites appear here too.
Or you can go on Alibaba and buy from the manufacturer directly. Seeing the carry on and similar photos on Alibaba makes the crowdfunding project look like a resell-scam, which is common on Indiegogo. While Indiegogo explicitly prohibits reselling, they don’t enforce their policy - plenty of Reddit threads have claimed this.
The battery specifications make no sense
The battery specifications also make no sense whatsoever, which shame on me, I’ve worked with Arduinos, battery packs, and done basic electrical projects. I should have known just by looking at the capacity that it would be impossible to power any sort of motor.
To put it in perspective, 3180MAH is about the capacity of this single 18650. This battery has about enough juice to power your phone up 1 time, maybe. Nowhere near enough energy to power 4 individual motors 4.3 to 6.2 miles, let alone with the contents of the bag and a 100+ lb person on top of it.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
Then I went to the comment section of the Indiegogo page. Some people followed through with paying the tariff and then said they either never received a reply or the organizer’s email stopped working.
Then I decided to do a little reading on the Customers and Border Protection Page.
According to the Customs and Border Patrol, the Importer is responsible for the duties and fees owed on the product. If the company is located in San Diego, CA that should not be an issue - they would have already calculated these expenses into the cost of the product, and made arrangements to get them moved from the port quickly.
Furthermore, this was a commercial import, so even more rules would have begun to apply with using custom brokers and the need for additional forms.
What this means is even if it were each individual buyer's responsibility, we wouldn't be making the payment Dimensional Ocean. We'd be making it to and at the post office where it would have been forwarded to us to pick up.
Secondly, since it did come in as a commercial shipment, as indicated by the update pictures below, this is on them to take care of.
However, they’re requesting that the buyers send a cash payment to a Chinese-based Paypal Address or wire it to a foreign bank account. This doesn’t make any sense in my book.
There’s the final red flag I needed. Either the person running this is crowdfunding campaign is grossly incompetent or running a scam. Regardless, sending any more money is a foolish idea and getting the product is a far-fetched dream at this point.
Rumors on Reddit
Furthermore, and here’s where it gets really interesting, I found the Indiegogo listing on the subreddit - /r/shittykickstarters. On this post, there’s anecdotal evidence that this is a scam - which I’ll take with a grain of salt.
The CEO of the "Dimensional Ocean" company is a known scammer for other products.
The company is not based in San Diego, CA as I couldn’t find anything in California’s Business Entity search for “Dimensional Ocean.”
Apparently this guy named Clark Chen started an Indiegogo campaign for some high performance, micro wireless earbuds called the Air Nano, under the username “crazybaby.” People paid $100 or more for these earbuds and while some received them, others never did. Checkout the comment thread here.
The people that did receive them complained they either didn’t work at all, or didn’t last for more than a few days before failing to properly function. Similar to the carry-on the expected delivery date was continually delayed until lots of people just gave up.
According to the Reddit user, /u/taobaoman, these luggage pieces are pretty common in china and you can get them for $200-$300. Additionally, this redditor lives around Shenzhen and was talking with people in the area. He/she heard the company wasn’t actually planning on shipping all the units, only a partial amount, then running away with the cash.
What’s also suspicious is that after this Reddit thread began gaining some traction, the LinkedIn account for Clark Chen was deleted and the Alibaba product page was modified.
Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way. Ultimately this is my fault for not doing my own due diligence. This is my first and probably last time I’ll fund anything on Indiegogo. I’m disappointed to read online that reselling products on the platform is allowed and not even remotely policed.
I’ve only participated in a Kickstarter campaign once before - Pat Flynn’s Switchpod, which was delivered as expected. Great product by the way…
I have filed a complaint with the FTC, although this probably won’t get anywhere. I have not yet contacted my credit card issuer to see if there’s anything they can do, but will be doing that soon.
If you also funded this campaign and lost your money, I encourage you to file a complaint with the FTC as well. Get in touch with your credit card company to see if there’s anything you can do. Under no circumstances send any additional funds to these people.
This is my speculation, but I think the way a lot of these campaigners get away with these shams is by actually producing and shipping some product, but then claiming it was not feasible to ship the remaining ones. They set the campaign goal low so it’ll reach the goal, which is a requirement for them to be rewarded the funds.
Then when production actually rolls around, they can claim all sorts of problems like the cost of x went up, y became no longer available, etc. etc. until they just don’t ship and people give up trying. Rinse, repeat with another product.
Is that illegal? No, because with crowdfunding it’s a donation to the cause, rather than purchasing a product. However, in good faith of backing a project, the campaigner promises to ship the product to you as a ‘thank-you’ for the support.