One Weird Trick to Rule Them All

Hey, you there. Sitting at your computer, clicking away. Times are tough, right? You’re feeling lethargic and a bit overweight, yes? Your skin has gotten blotchy and your teeth aren’t as white as they used to be. You’ve got a bit of fat around your belly you can’t get rid of. You’re having trouble sleeping, I’m guessing. You want to learn a new language, but haven’t the time or energy. And speaking of energy, your power bills have probably been longer than your arm lately, right?

Of course I’m right.

I used to be in the same boat as you. Exhausted, flabby, monolingual, a slave to the local electricity concern. I was in a bad way. A world of hurt. But then I was let in on a secret. And that secret changed everything for me. It’s just one weird, old trick, really. Easy as pie to do. But I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it. I’ll bet you didn’t even know the weird trick existed, let alone what it was or what it could do for you.

But it does exist. And just as a kind stranger let me in on it, I want you to know about it, too. Of course, THEY don’t want you to. The power company fat-cats, the language professors and dermatologists, the purveyors of belly-fattening foods that you must never eat. THEY have been keeping the one weird trick to themselves. Because if it ever got out, they’d be finished. Done. Kaput. That’s why they hate me. And soon, they’ll hate you too.

So are you ready? Are you ready to learn the one weird trick and be free?

Great choice, congratulations. You just took your life back. So just click on the little banner ad over there. All we’ll need to unleash your potential is a little personal information. Nothing THEY don’t already have. And for you to watch this video. Also, a credit card number will help speed things along…hey, don’t close that! Don’t you want to know the old weird trick? Well, do you at least mind if we put some malware on your computer and harvest all your data??


One weird trick” ads have become the new “annoying animated GIF” of the internet, popping up everywhere and selling anything you can think of, as long as it will change your life with virtually no effort on your part. No matter the product, the ads are mostly the same, usually featuring some kind of crudely drawn animated or photographed picture, as if to catch your attention via ugliness. They offer information about achieving some miraculous feat by the use of one simple “weird old tip.” And there’s often a reference to those who “hate” the weird trick, because the only thing better than a secret is a forbidden secret.

One weird old tip for stealing your money.

One weird old tip for stealing your money.

And you react by either ignoring the ads, not even seeing them in the first place because you’ve seen so many already, or scoffing at their desperation and silliness. The internet has been around for a long time, and we’re all pretty good at sniffing out scams, right? Who would click on an ugly ad like that? Who would believe such lofty nonsense?

A lot of people. And they do more than believe. They spend.

According to the Washington Post, as of 2011, just the “belly fat” ads alone had raked in a staggering $1 billion from people who’d been duped into buying worthless weight loss products. The power, teeth whitening, language and sleep scams are all fairly new, so there’s no telling how much money they’ve generated, but it’s probably a lot. And like with any scam, there are probably more victims out there who haven’t come forward out of embarrassment. It would seem that as consumers have finally gotten wise to the advance-fee fraud scam (the so called “Nigerian 419”) they’ve fallen in droves for “one weird trick.”

The scam itself is devilishly simple, and not as crude as most of the 419 emails. Clicking on the “one weird trick” ads brings you to a site that looks like a legitimate news report or information aggregating website, full of fake stories, fake testimonials and fake “scientific studies” regarding a miracle superfood like acai berries, African mangoes, raspberry ketones or green coffee beans. If you try to click away from the site, a window pops up asking if you’re sure, and if you click yes, you’re just taken to another site that has the same “information.” Then, once you’ve gotten hooked by the “facts” and “news reports,” you’re directed to yet another site where you can put in your credit card information to get a trial sample of the product. The charges start racking up, the miracle product keeps coming (and doing nothing) and there’s basically no way to stop it other than canceling your credit card.

The “power companies hate this” scam features an eye-catching picture of a futuristic gizmo that leads the clicker, who is presumably dealing with sky-high energy bills, to a video of a free energy device doing something amazing. After you watch the video (which is also probably on YouTube with lots of fawning comments), you can order software or products that will let you turn your house into a lean, mean, free-energy producing machine and stick it to those power companies.

Given that free energy does not exist, this is not a productive endeavor for anyone other than the person stealing your money. And just as the power scam uses the real (and debunked) promise of perpetual motion machines, the “learn a language in ten days” scam plays on the real Pimsleur Method of language learning, and the “sleep better” scam sells sleep aids that come in bottles with labels that look like real medication, but which, unlike real medication, don’t do anything. It’s all so real that it’s completely fake.

So why do people respond to these ads? And why do they make so much money?

As with other scams, many of the victims of “one weird trick” schemes are older, and have less experience sifting through the barrage of noise that greets us on virtually every page. But the money generated by “one weird trick” ads isn’t coming just from elderly internet users, but from a cross-section of the whole world. Why don’t people who should know better…know better?

It doesn’t help that many of the weight loss products sold by these ads are endorsed by high profile people. When I see Dr. Oz shilling for green coffee bean extract or raspberry ketones on his television show, then I click on an ad for the same product, I’ve gotten explicit confirmation from an “expert” who I trust that it works, and therefore, I’m much more likely to buy it. Who cares if “science” says it doesn’t work? THEY don’t want me to use it anyway, because drugs are expensive, and coffee beans are cheap.

The mysterious, evil THEY not wanting you to know is another reason these scams are so lucrative. The lure of “secret knowledge” is tremendous, and the more secret, the more ancient, the more forbidden, the better. Especially when it involves the familiar villains of Big Pharma and Big Oil. Learning “old weird tricks” that have been suppressed is a way of getting one over on them, even if the only people we’re getting one over on is ourselves.

And it’s just human nature to want easy solutions to difficult problems. It’s really hard to lose weight, and if acai berries or super-duper mangoes can help, then isn’t that worth at least trying? Energy costs are ridiculous, and if something I can spend 50 bucks on and build in my garage can save me money, don’t I have to give that a shot? Must I not at least make an effort?

The answer is no, you don’t. These ads are scams, and you don’t have to give your hard-earned money to these hucksters, no matter what Dr. Oz or a thousand YouTube commenters say. You can’t make something out of nothing, and anything truly worth doing, be it weight loss or reducing energy bills or whatever, can’t be accomplished simply through one trick, no matter how old or weird or suppressed or inexpensive it is. Your money and your time are infinitely more valuable than any “trick” someone on the internet wants to sell you.

About Mike Rothschild

Mike Rothschild is a writer and editor based in Pasadena. He writes about scams, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and pop culture fads. He's also a playwright and screenwriter. Follow him on Twitter at
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41 Responses to One Weird Trick to Rule Them All

  1. LadyRider says:

    I stopped reading the article when I got to the “free electricity” part – I will share a secret with you and my secret is FREE!~ Do you really want to lower your energy bill$? I live in a 1450 sq. ft. 3 bedroom home in Florida! The a/c is constantly on during the summer which makes the electric bills run sky high! But, this little trick is well worth it! I know because I’ve been doing this for over 15 years!

    When I first started my ‘electric experiment’ I doubted very much that anything would happen. The slowly, I noticed a reduction in my electric bill! Month after month, A lower bill here, another lower electric bill there – month after month, the electric bill became lower! I couldn’t believe it! I was totally amazed that my ‘little electric experiment’ worked! And it did! And the secret information that I am about to tell is is ABSOLUTELY FREE!

    There is no ‘clicking’ on the next link.
    There is no ‘personal information’ I want from you, and best of all
    I do not want your credit card information!

    This revolutionary propitiatory information is so SECRET that even the electric companies, if they found out, and if everybody did what I suggest, they might even raise the electric power rates because, reducing your electric bill is VERY SIMPLE! There is NO EFFORT on your part!

    Ok, sure. There is a little effort. You can’t get anything for free unless you put a little effort into it.

    Over the past 15 years that I have been ‘doing’ my little ‘energy saving secret,’ I have saved over $15,000.00! That’s right. It averages out to about $1000 a year, or approximately $83.33 a month. Who wouldn’t want an extra $83.33 in their pockets now and days?

    When I first started this little ‘electric experiment,’ my first electric bill to my 1450 sq. ft, 3 bedroom home in Florida was $25! (Remember, electricity was less expensive then. It has now since doubled).

    And why, pray tell, do I ramble on and on before giving you the SECRET to saving money on your electric bill? Because it WORKS. I know because I have been doing it for 15 years. And, it requires simply the following:

    Open communication with family members

    And that’s it! It’s that simple. Now, I will tell you exactly what I do…. ready? Here is my SECRET.

    First, you must become aware that you want to save money on your electric bill.
    Secondly, it is important to communicate with each member of the family that times have changed, we are in a continuous recession and financial abundance is more difficult to come by – life is not that easy as ‘we’ had it back in the ’80’s, 90’s, or 2000!

    It takes two people’s full time income to survive these days. No longer can one person financially survive living in their own home. Property taxes increase, home owner’s insurance increase, and food prices increase every year! Why not put your hard earn money back in your pocket again! Now, this is what I do.

    Every morning, before you leave your home, you probably walk through your garage, get in your car and go to work. Yes? Well, if not, most people do. This is what I do and here is my SECRET!

    Before I get into my car, I open the electric panel.
    I TURN OFF the breakers to the rooms I do not use.
    I keep the breakers ON for the refrigerator and hot water heater. Otherwise, everything else is turned off.

    I wash my laundry once a week. Therefore, the breakers for my washer and dryer are turned off until I use them.

    I cook outside on my BBQ and therefore, the breaker to my oven is turned off all the time!

    During the winter, I turn off the breaker to the heat pump and condenser to my a/c system.

    Each breaker is marked indicating what rooms are being powered.

    I turn everything off and only keep on the refrigerator and hot water heater.

    That’s it!

    And you know why my electric bill is for a 1450 sq. ft, 3 bedroom house today, a MONTH!

    $45! That’s right! That is what MY electric bill is.

    I have shared this secret with hundreds of people over the last 15 years. Some listen, others do not. When I follow up with those I’ve told, either they response with joy or they say “no, my husband wants everything on.”

    Well, it’s your choice. It’s my money and I plan on keeping as much money in my pocket first!

    So there you have it. The ‘little money saving electric secret’ has been revealed to the world!

    Try it and see what happens. I claim not to be a financial planner, accountant, electric guru, or anything else. You are totally 100% responsible for your own decisions. Any problems you experience personally from performing this ‘little secret’ is not my fault! I take and make no claims or warranties on anything! What you do is your choice and you must take the fully responsibility for your actions. I am in no way liable for the decision you make to take this information and use it.

    • Thank you Ladyrider!

      When I was in Israel 2 years ago in September/October on a video assignment, I noticed that all the places I stayed at had a toggle switch on the wall with an LED indicator lamp built into it.

      What I found from my adventure in learning, this is for on-demand use of hot water. The unit quickly heats water in about 20 minutes. Also, for places that experience more sun during the year (like Israel), you will see all sorts of cylindrical shapes that rest on the roof of many homes, some have a few of them.

      These cylinders are painted black to absorb heat, and these are for solar-heated water! They are quite effective, relatively inexpensive, and only require sun to operate. I would like to see these debut in America also, I am sure they would save a lot of money.

      One caveat on your power-saving tactics: due to switching breakers on and off, it is a very good idea to have surge protectors in place to safeguard sensitive electronics that could become fried from a power surge when a breaker is turned on.

      Alarm clocks and some devices have battery back-up options to retain memory during and after a power failure. Do some selective shopping, and this will save headaches for all the technocratic souls out there who hate reprogramming all their gadgets each day…


    • Anonymous says:

      Turning off your heat pump outdoor unit in the winter costs you money. The system then uses auxiliary electric heat which is much less efficient at heating.

    • Now these tricks are weird says:

      You could do MUCH better than that, Lady Rider.

      For example – what’s the point with air conditioning? Ceiling fans do the same job and consume MUCH less energy.

      Clothes dryer, who needs one? Hang your clothes on a rack, it’s good for the clothes.

      Oh and use a “chest freezer” – it consumes almost no energy. Cheap freezing!

      Also use LED lights.
      And LED computer screens.
      And so on.

      That’s how you really save energy.

  2. Bill says:

    I’ve seen variations of these ads that localize them by reading your computer’s IP address. I’m in the Phoenix area, so the ads sometimes say something like “Phoenix mom discovers weird old trick to whiten teeth”. So, along with all of the psychological hooks you’ve already mentioned, we now get to add ‘mommy wisdom’ along with local pride. Meanwhile, the exact same ad appears in someone else’s browser as “Dallas mom…” or “Seattle mom…”

    • Yeah, that’s another one. I’ve seen those more with work from home scams, like “Pasadena mom makes $78 an hour on the internet!”

      • Alex Calet says:

        I’m in the UK. We don’t say Mom, we say Mum, so anything that appears with “London Mom loses 20 lbs of belly fat” is a bit of a giveaway. They aren’t as bright as they think, these scammers.

    • I can always tell when I’m seeing one of these because on my work machine, we go through a proxy server located in Philadelphia (while I’m not even in the US). Web sites routinely tell me about Philly people who have discovered stuff, meanwhile nobody who lives near me has discovered anything.

  3. Paddy Kelly says:

    I say put LadyRider in charge. She’s clearly on top of things.

  4. oldmuley says:

    Thanks for your discussion on this one, Brian. You can also lump in all of the YouTube ads where you watch someone drawing cartoons while a voice over gives you the “secret” sales pitch. Of course they don’t really tell you anything other than to click on a link, and we all know where that ends up.

  5. Freke1 says:

    Adds pay for something. As long as people click on them we get something for free. Lets hope You didn’t just ruin that 😉
    But yes, the stuff people believe… I believed in the Philadelphia Experiment for many many years. Until a Skeptoid episode.

  6. gregm91436 says:

    The thing that’s really ridiculous is that language professors would *love* for people to be able to learn their language quickly. It would delight them; they could have fluent conversations with said student in French or whatever, and assign “Les Mis” in French and talk about it. The other stuff the “THEY” makes sense, kinda, but on that one the “THEY” doesn’t even make sense.

    For sleep trouble, try melatonin. It’s over the counter, natural, and it works for me.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the article! What’s with the infatuation with ‘weird trick/tip’, though? Can they not think of anything else? Is there not marketing rule that says overusing a word or phrase diminishes it? “Weird trick” has become synonymous with scam. But I suppose if only 0.5% of the people fall for it, that’s more than enough.

  8. heynow says:

    Thank you — I’m so glad to see this topic addressed!! These “one weird trick” ads have been driving me crazy. All I want is the weather forecast, yet I’m bombarded with teases about losing weight, refinancing my house, and making a million bucks by sitting at home.

  9. Lethal1ty says:

    What I don’t get is why we actually still see these ads. Everyone is aware that they are scams. The entities that spread them surely know this. And I would HOPE to believe that websites actually give two damns as to what can be advertised on their pages. So why do even half-decent sites inundate themselves and their customers with these eyesores? Poor Yahoo, as if they weren’t already the laughing stock of the search engine world, every single link that they have posted in the ast few years has been plagued with these.

    Could it be that reputable companies are starting to shy away from web ads because they know that it associates their business with frustration? Because web ads have been inundated with obviously false claims ever since I was a kid. It’s gotten to the point where I just refuse to click on any web ads out of apathy. This practice has completely ruined the entire web ad business model.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Lady Rider u r my dream girl. I do the same thing and have been instilling the notion into my 11 year olds head that anything left on is just giving money to the power companies.
    however, your bill must be higher when running the A/C. isnt it?

  11. kcchris727 says:

    These ads make me so angry because they are so insulting and yet at the same time they are a reflection of the dank cesspool of uneducated idiots that populate the world. Why anyone would ever be stupid enough to give your money to some stupid ass swindler like these guys is beyond me. There are no weird tricks to making you a millionaire or saving you on your electric bill or anything else. The weird trick is how these morons can get people to click on their ads in the first place.

    Everytime some stooge buys something from one of these scam sites all you do is empower them and encourage more and more of them to come to life…

    • DontWorryBeHappy says:

      This kinda hits the nail on the head for me. I couldn’t put my finger on why these ads bug me so much, but this is it. The unsettling notion that there are enough impulsive Skinnerian baboons out there that click on these ads to keep them profitable and in my face. Are so many people out there so unreasoning and impulsive? Is there any hope? (I’m still waiting to see a “One Weird Old Trick” for restoring hope in the future of human civilization…)

      Well, gotta go. Obama wants me to refinance my house, so I need to go click on some Mortgage ReFi ads to see where the best deals are.

    • Mrhycannon says:

      Kind of like the groom/bride/nanny from overseas.. It’s been my experience that the higher IQ folks fall for it quicker and send more money.. I think they just don’t want to admit they’ve been had..

  12. Trevon says:

    There’s really no need for doing any of these ‘one weird trick’ things. Most of the problems they supposedly addressed can be easily handled by putting in the time and energy to research the problem, find the real solutions that are out there, make educated decisions, and execute the plans that work. Weight loss is easy: go to the gym 3 times a week and do compound lifts with the tried and true 5×5 method (which has been around since Reg Park), increase the intensity as you go, and eat a diet with high monounsaturated fat, moderate carbs and sat fat, and tons of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis. Paying your bills is also easy – either decrease the usage that makes you spend more money, or stop buying useless stuff and work harder on the job. Easy. You just have to put in the effort. I think people are getting too lazy to solve their own problems. That’s why this is happening.

  13. B says:

    Here are my “weird tricks” for every day life:

    1. Weight Loss – If you really wanna lose weight, that’s great, and there are many ways to do it. Just get your lazy butt up and get to the gym! Stop drinking soda and anything else with HFCS in it! You don’t need three McDoubles! Fruit Gushers are NOT fruit! Visit the Cheesecake Factory only once a year! Donuts and ice cream DO NOT go together! Don’t eat cake with a soda on the side! I could go on and on, but Halle Berry said it best in Monster’s Ball, “What I tell you about eatin’ that s***!”

    2. Tooth Whitening – Whiten your teeth the old-fashioned way… brush ’em!

    3. Penis Enlargement – God gave all of us what we were born with for a reason. We’re not talking about straightening your teeth with braces here. We’re talking about using artificial (and probably dangerous or inactive) substances to lengthen a fleshy organ that has already grown to its max and is full of ultra-sensitive nerves. In short, you get what you’ve got. Deal with it.

    4. Get More Sex – That’s easy. Get more sex. If you can’t, then “handle” your “business”.

    5. Save on Electricity – Do you really need every freakin’ light on in the house? No!

    6. Get Ripped in 10 Days – I have yet to see an exercise machine, personal trainer, fitness program or workout video, let alone a stupid berry, that can achieve this feat. I’m sure anyone who attempts this will probably die of exhaustion on day one.

    7. Save on Car Insurance – Buying car insurance is like a buying a cell phone plan; pay less and get crappy service, or pay more and get better service (the latter is debatable these days). By the way, the insurance industry doesn’t just hate these “secret savers”, they hate EVERYBODY. Their job is to make you pay as much as they want you to pay, and to insure you the least they can. Remember, if you own a car, insurance is required by law. What a great way to keep State Farm going strong!

    8. Get Grants for School – Come on. Is the Federal government really gonna advertise grant programs using a lackluster animation of a glass emptying and refilling itself with orange juice? How does that even make sense?

    9. Get Cheap Health Insurance – See #7 and switch out a few words.

    10. Superfruit! – If something grows on a tree, bush or vine and it won’t kill you, eat it. It’s unadulterated by human processing, so it’s probably good for you. Sticking “super” in front of it doesn’t make it any better, and no magic berry or mango is gonna heal you. Go see a doctor for whatever it is you have.

    Finally, the ultimate “weird trick” is… DON’T BE STUPID. It’ll save you a lot of money in the long run, and you don’t have to enter your credit card information to try it for free.

    • mcswell2001 says:

      “If something grows on a tree, bush or vine and it won’t kill you, eat it.” I think there’s a story in the Bible about that…

      Ok, all seriousness aside, would you like to hear about my weird trick for saving up to $25 off your electrical bill? Or how about losing up to 4 pounds (2 kilos) *or more* per week?

  14. Elaine says:

    What I don’t understand is… most of us realize these are just annoying scam ads. I want to know why they are allowed on mainstream/legitimate sites. Yes, Yahoo is paid big bucks to include their ads, but wouldn’t you think they’d be a little more choosy about not allowing harmful links on their front page?

  15. Nelson H. says:

    What’s interesting to me are the deep human impulses triggered by the words “weird” and “trick”. One word promises novelty, curiosity, sensation, an opportunity fire the imagination with something extraordinary. The other word suggests a chance to “get over on the man”, take advantage of a loophole, beat the system, take a short-cut, pull off a minor scam. All of these are things a good 70% of the general population thinks about doing every single day. It is the entire basis of the Democratic Party, if you think about it. So these words in combination offer a sensational way to get over on the system, kind of like figuring out how to get triple the food stamps you’re actually supposed to get, or learning how to neutralize a parking meter, or cheating on your taxes. Isn’t America great?

    • B says:

      I’m a Democrat, and I’m not dumb enough to believe this crap. You’re way off base, man. You wanna talk about getting over? Talk to those rich jerks at the banks that continually screw us all for a dollar by adding fees that didn’t previously exist or doubling fees that are already in place. Have a savings account? The bank sees $$$. Make too many transfers in a month? $$$$. Now just how many of the shareholders at these banks are Republicans? Of course scamming government assistance and evading taxes sounds a lot worse than sitting on your butt at a board meeting to figure out new ways to suck middle class bank patrons dry. It doesn’t make it right just because it’s legal.

      And that’s the way America works. Great, isn’t it? Now let’s stay on topic… thanks!

      • TRUTH says:

        Or you could just park your money in a credit union, r if not, then just don’t make more transfers than you already agreed to in the fine print which you didn’t read because you’re a low information human who can’t be bothered t read. You ARE a democrat, and you didn’t need to announce it because your victimhood made its arrival within 3 sentences. Yeah…’s the “man” (read: bank, rich guy/gal/ credit card that you don’t pay, DMV registration that you couldn’t send in when they mailed it to you 3 months ago, auto loan company that gave you a loan with your 437 credit score, blah blah blah…). YOU are not middle class; you’re LOW class, for being such a OWS toady.

        • B says:

          Look, I don’t know who you are or what you do in your life, but you seriously need to grow up. Don’t come on here announcing YOUR credit score trying to prove a point to your “conservative” buddies. Unlike you, I pay every last one of my bills on time every time, I don’t need to take out loans that I can’t pay back and I read contracts before I sign them. Just because your low I.Q. prevents you from making sound financial decisions doesn’t mean that others have the same problem. Every business is designed to make money and will do so in any way they can. Just about every single adult with at least two brain cells knows that. I know that this is the era of nameless, faceless trolls who constantly cruise the Internet looking for something to complain about, but this… is an all-time low.

          Stay on topic instead of repeating what your grandfather’s father has been telling you about life, and talk to me about handling business once you move out of your mother’s basement.

          This will be my only response to you. Any further comments from you will be a testament to your own lack of maturity, and for that, I thank you.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for a careful and accurate procedure for controlling your electric bill. At a lower level of attention, for years we have been unplugging, appliances,entertainment equipment, computer devices etc when not in use and obviously when away for a day or more. Outdoor lighting is on motion detection for vulnerable areas. Computer controlled thermostats and learning to live with not so cool or not so warm internal climate is a big money saver for us. Keep up the good work and get your good words out there

  17. Anonymous says:

    My trick for a tiny belly? Run 5 miles a day. Too bad most people are too lazy to do it.

  18. Michael Brown says:

    Wait, people TRUST Dr. Oz?


  19. Anonymous says:

    Check dat math bro.

  20. Ethnic Food says:

    Magnificent post

  21. Not a Number says:

    The one I don’t get is ‘Life Insurance companies’ hating a weird trick. What life insurers want is for you to live a long time so they don’t have to pay out but you keep paying them. They lose if you die young and healthy and haven’t paid many fees. The only weird trick for them would be a way to kill yourself without it looking like suicide.

  22. Kitten says:

    How bout this close the window and get the same supplement for 5-10 dollars at wal mart

  23. A variety of ridiculous products are seen around the net. Humorous, creepy, or entirely brainless products. It truly is entirely amazing that the products below were genuinely invented and are promoted to us through the internet. Kind of causes you to ask yourself, who really orders this stuff?

  24. Michael3245 says:

    Of course when my Nigerian Prince comes through all of this money grubbing will be a thing of the past for me. I will simply look down from great heights of richness basking in the glory of the wealth I’ve gained from NIGERIA! Just you wait! He’ll come through! He promised! And then SO LONG SUCKERS!

    ….any day now.

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