The Linux Desktop is Studded with Grifters

The open nature of Linux is both a significant benefit and a perpetual curse. There is a pattern here we will come to re-visit over the coming months.

Information accessibility, permissive licensing, and software availability make it easier than ever for individuals from any background to get involved. Using and contributing to Linux desktop projects is more straightforward than ever.

Grifters use this open access to prey on people, take their money and lead them down counterproductive paths. Thankfully there’s only a few of these individuals in the Linux desktop ecosystem.

We should be aware of them, and shun them.

Finding Marks

There are many ways a grifter will find their mark(s) – the person or group they wish to sponge off of. This is one example, but it’s only one. Grifters are good at shape-shifting to make the leap from one group to another, once funds are exhausted.

Users of Linux based operating systems would love to get involved more deeply in the projects they use and care about. Some do, of course, quite successfully. However, there’s a fair number who find it an insurmountable hurdle to contribute in any meaningful way.

Contrary to common assumptions, many desktop Linux users aren’t actually developers by trade. Some do look up to developers and wish they had the time and energy to contribute. Typically their family or work is a higher priority though. Maybe they can’t find the mental capacity to add the new skills required to contribute studiously.

Prey on the Unsuspecting

This is where some the grifters come in. Frequently they won’t contribute to other projects. They don’t have control over the finances, so there’s no personal benefit for them.

They often start brand new projects which may look useful on the face of it. They will have Patreons, accept donations, then promise to deliver something. Sadly they all too frequently fail to deliver anything of any value. They continue to take donations though.

Sadly there are a few examples of this over the last decade. In some cases they promise to create software, running successful pre-order campaigns. Everything looks great, until things start to go quiet.

Backers or buyers may even forget they financed the project. It will likely be a small individual outlay for backers, but with hundreds or thousands of backers, the money mounts up. The software never arrives though, but quietly disappears. Often there are allusions to legal issues or un-named third parties who are to blame.

Websites get shut down, social media posts and videos are deleted and the grifter moves on to the next project. Anyone who complains is ignored or vilified for negativity, then blocked on social platforms. The grifter will attempt to neuter all dissenters. They may even entirely delete community resources to eradicate all evidence that there was any project, to begin with. They will do this in the name of removing the “haters”, who are the truth-tellers.

There may be a quiet announcement that anyone who backed the project can request a refund. This won’t be widely known, and may not even be announced directly to the buyers and backers. Some may request a refund, the majority will not, seeing it as a small loss, if they even know about the project failure.

No Remorse

Projects fail all the time, no doubt. Not all projects succeed, of course. However the key to the grift is to keep moving. Gain sympathy from the audience, show regret that the project failed, but blame someone else in a non-specific, unverifiable way, and they’ll follow. Do anything but accept responsibility, and don’t give refunds if at all possible.

Rinse and Repeat

After a short delay, the grifter will change tack completely, taking on a new project which is a complete change from anything previously done. Perhaps the new grift isn’t even software, but a new advocacy project.

They will often start by whipping up a new frenzy on their new social platforms among a closed audience of supporters – an echo chamber. The outrage will be built, and only the grifter can possibly solve the problems. But they can’t do it alone, they need your help, in cash.

The whales (a term used by unscrupulous game publishers – to describe the customers who can be relied upon to finance new projects) will fund the new ventures and share them with their friends. A new wave of marks will join and add to the grifter’s coffers.

This again will continue, often for months, as the main source of income for the grifter. Their community will fund the project, answering the repeated calls for funds.

That grift will again be stopped for some reason. It will never be the fault of the grifter. Perhaps a hand-wavy legal threat has been made, or backroom conversations occurred which made it impossible to continue. Again, no refunds, unless you happen to see the notice at the bottom of the filing cabinet in the basement.

A way Forward

Some in the Linux community will eschew the corporate backing of applications, desktops and other projects, preferring to fund and otherwise support pure community initiatives and individuals instead. This is fair, and expected, given the community nature of many open source projects. Corporations however, have a tool at their disposal that communities don’t. They can dismiss manipulative or divisive individuals.

A grifter will often linger like a bad smell in a community. Many others will be fully aware of the disgusting behaviour of the grifters, but will be scared to speak up, for fear of public repercussions. The grifter will often have a large audience which they’ll use to amplify negativity about people who highlight their poor behaviour. They will also make baseless legal threats to intimidate anyone who speaks up.

Grifters often have minimal recent history of successful corporate employment or sponsorship. While that’s not a single measure in determining how genuine someone is, it’s certainly a factor among many. They may reference employment at reputable organisations, from years past as their currently valid credentials. Their grifts typically started soon after those corporate engagements ended, once they discover they’re realistically unemployable.

A grifter will delete their own content to cover their tracks. Deleting hundreds of YouTube videos, all their Tweets, entire subreddits and their own websites, to hide their previous promises. This isn’t a privacy move, hiding from big tech, it’s hiding any accountability, from you.

Grifters shouldn’t be confused with well-meaning open source contributors or contractors. Con-men are very good at masquerading as someone who is just unlucky, or is a victim. A genuine contributor will have a track record of work, usually easily discovered on their official accounts. They will also have collaborators who will genuinely vouch for them, which a grifter will not.

All the grifter has is their own narrative, told on their own platform in their words. They are the central character in the story. They typically never create anything of worth to anyone beyond themselves despite claiming to.

We should, as a community, do better at vetting and rejecting these people.

Do not accept their cons in your community.