I've noticed a spate of schemes to raise money on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and through more traditional avenues that involve claims that are essentially physically impossible. A rudimentary due diligence investigation by an expert in the field would debunk the project very quickly. Examples include solar cells a few inches in diameter with a mains receptacle, a device for charging your cell phone based on coffee or beer mug temperature difference, and a keychain scanner that purports to be able to detect nutritional content and trace compounds in foods. In some cases the principals may actually be scammers, but in others they are marketers who can claim ignorance of engineering or science (yet are marketing a tech product that does not have anything close to a working prototype). They could even be experts in some facet of the required technology, but ignore other essential parts.

Is there a pithy term for such operators?

Scammer or rip-off artist do not not quite seem appropriate because they imply an intent rather than ignorance (or willful ignorance).

If no such term exists, a coined term would be most useful.

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    I think you should be very careful of labelling things like your examples as "scams" relying on customer's "ignorance". 15 years ago I replaced most of my domestic incandescent light bulbs with LEDs, and I had to put up with people telling me I was ignorant because the light was low quality/intensity, and the energy saving were too small to justify the capital outlay. Today you can't even buy incandescent bulbs in the UK - a situation which to me was obviously bound to happen, even back then. Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 15:41
  • @FumbleFingers I'm referring to passive or willful ignorance on the part of the principals in the scheme. They're taking money and perhaps doing some sort of work on something that cannot possibly do what they are claiming. The victims' naïveté isn't the point. Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 16:03
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    I understand that. But we're talking about contexts where you (or whoever is going to use your target word) believe the product cannot possibly do what it claims. You might be wrong, is all I'm saying. I think people who go to church because they think it will give them eternal life are mistaken, but presumably most of the vicars, priests, etc., don't see it that way. Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 16:18

2 Answers 2


Snake oil is the word you are looking for, I believe. You could say the products of these people are snake oil equivalents, being sold despite the fact that they probably know and you know that they are useless.

Snake oil is an expression that originally referred to fraudulent health products or unproven medicine but has come to refer to any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit. By extension, a snake oil salesman is someone who knowingly sells fraudulent goods or who is himself or herself a fraud, quack, charlatan, and the like.

It might be a bit of a stretch but you may also say that these Kickstarters are done by fly-by-night salespeople. It's likely that they have little intention of making good on their promises and once the kickstarter is over they may deliver an even more shoddy product to maximize their gains. They could simply run off with the money, too.

2- One who departs or flees at night in order to avoid creditors, law enforcement etc. (often used attributively).

3- (idiomatic, derogatory) A person or business that appears and disappears rapidly, or gives an impression of transience.


Yeah, they're called idealists.

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