Scam warning: dHack

Misha Larionov
Nov 6, 2017 · 5 min read

Update: I’ve written a second article. Read it here.

Update 2: I’ve been sent a cease and desist for this article. Read more here.

I’m writing this article to warn anyone running some kind of tech-related event about the shady organization dHack, currently operating as a logistical support organization. Over the past few months, they’ve been involved with the events of at least two youth organizations.

One of the primary functions of dHack, at least as described by the Toronto Hacker Club Instagram, is being a “professional hackathon & tech event logistical company.” One such hackathon was THacks 2, a 24-hour hackathon organized by the Toronto Hacker Club, which was supposedly “proof” of dHack’s logistical prowess. Ironically, I first heard of dHack from a friend complaining about availability of hardware during the THacks 2 hackathon, which dHack was apparently supposed to provide along with some prizes. This, however, never came to fruition. Attendees at the event reportedly never saw any of the hardware, even creating the hashtag “#hardWHERE” in frustration, and multiple winners of prizes supposedly provided by dHack have stated that they are still waiting on their hardware weeks after the event.

Something similar happened at InspireHacks, a hackathon hosted by the Toronto Youth Network. dHack was supposed to provide winners with iPads and tickets to TrainHacks, an event that dHack claims to be organizing (more on that later). Winners at this event were also never contacted. Given the fact that most hackathons hand out their prizes at the event, minutes after being announced, the lack of contact regarding prizes is suspicious. Even with hackathons that don’t give out prizes on the spot, such as MHacks 8, winners were immediately emailed and asked for contact information the day prizes where announced, and prizes were sent out within days. Winners of prizes provided by dHack, however, have yet to receive or arrange shipment of their prizes. When these organizations attempted to contact David M Kalman, the CEO of dHack, he reportedly did not respond.

Another function of dHack, according to a Medium article by CEO David M Kalman, is “a one stop shop for running the most incredible tech events.” The article goes on to explain that the goal of dHack is to run the craziest and most outrageous tech events in Canada. At the end of the article, he describes a few events he plans to organize, although “describes” is a generous term. The descriptions provided are of little substance, with no actual information about any event provided. The titles of the events are much more interesting, as from them we can uncover some information about dHack and how they run things.

The first event named in the article is “Hack for Good,” which is described in the article as “bringing engineering and hacking power to make a difference and do good for the local charity community.” Interestingly enough, googling the event doesn’t seem to bring up any evidence of such an event ever having existed, although a Google search I did of the domain on the 25th of October showed that the event was supposed to happen from Sept 15–17. The live version of the search doesn’t have this, presumably because the event never happened. The Google crawl of the dHack domain still gives us some interesting events to look into, with results for events called TechEX, StartupValley, and CNTech all leading to 404 pages. CNTech does have a website though, and tickets to the event were even touted as prizes for THacks 2. The description for the “best pitch” prize for THacks 2 shows that the prize is “2 Spots in CNTech Pitch Challenge.” What’s interesting about this event is that despite having a website, which at the time of writing was a splash page devoid of information, all information about this event seems to have been given verbally during THacks, with none of the details appearing anywhere online and instead being passed around by word-of-mouth.

This pattern of only mentioning details in-person, presumably so as not to have a record to be held accountable against, seems to be dHack’s MO and is made clear during the THacks 2 closing ceremony (David speaks at 24:30 and then again at 56:00). In the first minute of his speech, dHack CEO David Kalman mentions that his company helps events such as Hack The North. When contacted about this, Hack The North responded saying it “has never been affiliated with DHack (past or future).” David also calls CNTech the “first-ever” elevator pitch challenge in the CN Tower (Hint: It’s not) and mentions that the prize is “roughly a quarter of a million dollars.” Personally, I find it hard to believe that a three-person organization with no apparent event organization experience can manage to scrape together a quarter million dollars for a first event.

Another hackathon mentioned in David’s Medium article is TrainHacks. The case of TrainHacks is a curious one, as there is actually quite a bit of information concerning this event. During the THacks 2 closing ceremony, David mentioned that dHack was partnering with VIA Rail, and the hackathon would take place in March 2018 over the course of 14 days. Recently, a website for the event was put up, as well as an Instagram page. Disconcertingly, the website actually features a registration form, which asks for information typically not required for hackathon applications, such as a phone number and address. Looking at the Instagram page makes it immediately obvious that the logo is an almost exact copy of the SpaceX logo. The post descriptions claim that the event is sponsored by VIA Rail, Marriott, Air Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency. VIA Rail has since replied stating that they could not find the event in their records. SpaceX has yet to respond.

Now I want to take a moment to look into some of the members of dHack. The TrainHacks Instagram lists only three members: David M Kalman as CEO, Stu Segal as CCO, and Hussain Punjani as CTO. Searches for Stu only brought me to his Instagram (which doesn’t seem to mention dHack at all), and searching for Hussain brought me nothing. David seems to be the only one with an actual social media presence. For comparison, actual organizations such as the Toronto Youth Network have dozens of members for way less ambitious events, not including onsite volunteers.

In conclusion, I would recommend that anyone considering working with dHack look at their track record and reconsider. The fact of the matter is that dHack has no evidence of ever having delivered on their promises. Hopefully I’ve succeeded in some regard from warning potential targets about this organization. If I can prevent further hackathons from being scammed by this organization then the time I spent writing this article will have been worth it.

Addendum: Since I first published the article, a former TOHC member, who preferred to remain anonymous, told me that TOHC president Peter Stakoun made the unilateral decision to give dHack seven thousand dollars, plus an unspecified additional amount. The contract written up for this exchange was reportedly examined by a lawyer, who said it would not hold up in court. According to the former TOHC member, dHack had originally claimed that it would sponsor THacks 2 with ten thousand dollars, so it is unclear why Peter agreed to this deal.

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