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The Secrets of Liars — How to Detect an Internet Solar Energy Scam

How To Detect Internet Scam 1

how to detect internet scam 1All I was trying to do was find some football scores on Yahoo the other day when I saw it. I don’t go looking for this stuff, and when I do see it, I try to ignore it. But this one clotheslined me with an unfair term.

All I was trying to do was find some football scores on Yahoo the other day when I saw it. I don’t go looking for this stuff, and when I do see it, I try to ignore it. But this one clotheslined me with an unfair term.

That’s the ad in question to the left. Have you seen it? I probably shouldn’t tell you the name of the website, but the kryptonite term that made my fingers go apoplectic was ‘free energy.’ Seeing it capitalized intensified the effect. And the photo! Is that a diseased wireless router robot surrendering its secrets to me?

Of course I had to click. I willingly undertook the pain and agony of going in there because if writing this blog has taught me anything, it’s that a good blogger has to have a healthy messiah complex. Can’t you see? If not for me, you wouldn’t know that you’re about to be eaten alive by patent trolls while you sleep, that you’re making terrible mistakes with your garage, or that the USGBC wants to force you to live in an all-glass, LEED-certified home.

Two copywriting secrets

Because I do a lot of writing and my underlying goal is for it to help my business, I read stuff about copywriting. Writing copy to sell stuff online is a huge industry, but the basic principles have been known for a long time. Copywriters have a lot of tricks to get your attention and to make you buy, but not all of them follow the advice of Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spiderman): “With great power comes great responsibility.”

No, some will use that power to exploit the fear and ignorance of those whose money they want. Without investing much of their own money, they’ll create a website that preys on common weaknesses. The first thing they have to do, though, is just get you over there. Hence the alluring title in that ad: “Power Companies Hate This!”

Two things immediately jump out at me here. First, they’ve got a secret they’re willing to share with you, and it’s one that a powerful entity doesn’t want you to have. Second, the word ‘this’ in a headline or email subject pulls people in. Since I first read about ‘this’ in a copywriting book, I’ve watched my own reactions, and it does indeed work. When you see that word, your mind immediately wants to know what the ‘this’ is.

A video full of lies, half-truths, and distortions

Once on the website, I found a video that started automatically. The voice of someone who said his name is David Bradley then started telling about all the ‘thieves, crooks, and liars’ who were stealing from me and my family every month when I pay my electricity bill. And he promised to give me a way to beat them ‘in the next 7 minutes.’ Makes you think the video’s going to be only 7 minutes long, doesn’t it?

how to detect internet scam 2b

The video used a method that was popular a few years ago. An artist drew it all out while Mr. Bradley told me how I was being ripped off not only by the power company but also by solar energy companies that wanted to sell me equipment at grossly inflated prices and send a technician to install it for the ridiculous rate of $50 per hour. I’ve seen some educational videos done with this method, and they were great. Now I’ll always think ‘scam’ when I see this technique in the future.

how to detect internet scam 8

Everything about this video screamed ‘scam.’

  • They used a lot of emotionally charged terms (shocking, family, freedom, drastic…).
  • They built up a nice conspiracy of the world against you, with Mr. Bradley as the only one who can save you…if you buy his manuals and video.
  • They’ve drastically slashed the prices to a quarter of what they should be charging you for all this information.

Oh, yeah. That 7 minute video stretched out past 45 minutes by the time it finally stopped. Even then, they had more to tell me when I tried to click away but instead responded positively to their appeal not to leave.

They’re selling what?!

As far as I can tell, Mr. Bradley and his team are selling manuals and videos to help you build your own solar energy system and wind turbine. He also mentioned something that I’m pretty sure is a power factor correction device. I’m guessing you’ll have to build that, too, but don’t bother; it won’t help. So, for ONLY $47, you can buy his information for stuff that you probably can’t build, and if you do, it almost certainly won’t work as advertised.

I’m curious to know what his instructions are for building your own “super efficient solar panels,” especially since he say it “costs 1/10th of pre-fab panels.” You’re certainly not going to be able to make your own photovoltaic cells out of silicon. I can’t imagine that he’s going to tell you to buy individual cells either, and then wire them up yourself into homemade modules, complete with frame and glass cover for protection. So he’s probably just going to tell you about how to find inexpensive modules and components and put the whole system together yourself. A subscription to Home Power magazine would be a much better investment.

The bottom line on his solar panel claim is that it’s just not possible. No one can make their own solar cells at home. It requires laboratory ‘clean rooms’ and equipment more expensive than any homeowner trying to cut their electric bills can afford. It requires a deep understanding of semiconductors and electrical circuits that homeowners don’t possess. And wiring up already-made cells won’t be anywhere near cost-effective, or within the skill level of most of the people that this website is targeting.

Mr. Bradley tells you that you can build a “high-power wind generator.” How high exactly? “Up to 450 Watts.” He doesn’t tell you that a 450 W wind turbine is actually tiny as wind turbines go. He also doesn’t tell you that wind turbines aren’t really suitable for most homes because they’re noisy and will send vibrations into your home if attached to the house.

Here’s another clue that Mr. Bradley either doesn’t really know what he’s talking about or is a sneaky liar. At one point, he said that solar panels produce just as much electricity on a bright winter day as they do during the height of summer. Although the lower temperatures of winter can make photovoltaics more efficient, the incident solar radiation (insolation) is lower because the sunlight has to travel further through the atmosphere, and there are few daylight hours.

how to detect internet scam 21

Is Mr. Bradley trying to be the Kevin Trudeau of solar energy?

If you’re a logical, scientific-minded person, it’s easy to see that websites and videos like this are set up only to extract money from people who fall for the emotional pitch, who don’t know enough about the technical issues, or who just have more money than sense. Perhaps Mr. Bradley has been taking lessons from the master of this field, Kevin Trudeau, who made his name and his fortune with television infomercials.

The good news is that Kevin Trudeau owes the Federal Trade Commission $37.6 million in fines. His companies have been siezed and his assets frozen. He may even go to jail. [Update 4/15/14: Trudeau was sentenced to 10 years in prison on 17 March 2014.]

The bad news is that my Mega Memory didn’t hold out long enough, and I wasted $47.

Wait, no, that’s not it. The real bad news is that I didn’t fork over my credit card information, so now I’m consigned to:

how to detect internet scam 25

Or so Mr. David Bradley and his Power Freedom scam would have you believe.


Related Articles

Do Power Factor Correction Devices Save Energy?

Is HERS Rater Training a Scam?

Beware of Home Energy Auditor Certification Scams

This Post Has 40 Comments

  1. Chris: I
    Chris: I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re doing the same thing with multiple websites. I’m also not surprised you’ve written about this already. Here’s the direct link to your post: 
    Power4Patriots Beware

  2. I’ve been smirking at those
    I’ve been smirking at those ads for many moons. They are an obvious scam, and it is hard to feel sorry for people who fall for them. 
    What I find both more widespread and more insidious are savings claims made by purveyors of all manner of energy conservation goods and services. 
    We’ve all heard outlandish claims for savings to be gained from radiant barrier foil or paint, powered attic ventilation fans, high SEER AC connected to crappy ductwork, tankless water heaters, etc. These claims are more plausible and harder to debunk than those made by a barking mad internet conspiracy theorist. 
    At a home show I watched a solar thermal salesguy claim with a straight face that the average Florida family spends $80 per month to operate a storage electric water heater when the true cost is half that figure or less per FSEC and others. Of course, that misstatement is often required in order to justify spending $5-8k for a solar thermal water heating system.

  3. Yet another example of the
    Yet another example of the “It would be funny if people didn’t fall for it” phenomenon. 
    I think we’ve all seen examples of exaggerated claims. In 2010 I had to pick my jaw off the floor at a clean energy forum when a local solar installer said he was calculating fuel inflation at 17% annually when calculating payback for his systems. His justification was the 2008 oil price spike. Worse, in a room of about 50 people I was the only one to question it. 
    One of my ideas for solving the patent troll problem was to patent patent trolling. Patenting the idea of using “weird” ideas (and other forms of misinformation) to separate people from their cash, checks or credit card information would be a profitable angle too.

  4. Concerning the logos at the
    Concerning the logos at the bottom: Do you belong to these organizations? Do the organizations pay to be at the bottom of your blog? 
    I do like your blog. I hate those scam ads!

  5. Curt K.:
    Curt K.: All I can say is that you’ve got a lot of work to do on developing your messiah complex if you want to become a blogger. Oh, and yes, those companies that operate closer to the validity borderline are certainly a problem, too. 
    Bill S.: Of course! Patent the patent trolling concept! What a perfect solution. 
    M. Johnson: You’re welcome. I couldn’t bear to listen too closely, but I did get a lot of screenshots. 
    Dixie W.: Yes, we are proud to be either members, accredited, or registered with the organizations below. No, they don’t pay us. We pay four of the five of them. It’s free to be an ENERGY STAR Partner. Glad you like the blog! 

  6. Thank you for your skillful
    Thank you for your skillful dissection of Bradley and his scam. Having worked for about 30 years as a research physicist in solar PV, it is quite obvious that an amateur can’t make panels at home with any chance of success. Even wiring individual cells together does not solve the very tricky problem of hermeticity for weather resistance. If Bradley could make panels as cheap and efficient as he claims, he would be manufacturing them commercially (and winning the Nobel in physics).  
    An additional problem for DIY installations is that a grid-connected system has to meet strict standards and certifications, especially if you want the “power company crooks” (or is it the evil Government?) to buy your excess capacity.  
    Whenever I hear a spiel that takes more than about a minute to get to its thesis, I know it’s bullshit.  
    Thanks again for the excellent debunking.

  7. I did the same as MCF above.
    I did the same as MCF above. It sounded too easy and am glad I came across your blog. Thanks

  8. A lot of the scams depend on
    A lot of the scams depend on ideas that look attractive until you do the math or physics. It’s amazing what people believe so long as they keep their slide rules tucked in your rectums.

  9. Jonathan A.
    Jonathan A.: Yep. As a physicist myself, I’m well aware of the difficulties of working with semiconductor electronics, but there are so many other indications that this is a scam, you don’t have to be a physicist to figure that out.  
    MCF: Welcome! If you haven’t done it already, enter your email address in the Subscribe box at the top of the page, and you’ll get an email notification each time I publish a new article.  
    Jim K: Welcome to you, too! If you’re interesting in building science or energy efficiency, become a subscriber.

  10. I will never develop enough
    I will never develop enough of a Messiah complex to feel sorry for folks that fall for such nonsense. It’s right up there with Nigerian money laundering schemes. 
    People who want something for nothing deserve just that. 
    Part of the value added proposition offered by those of us who keep abreast of building science and energy conservation is to defend clients smart enough to engage us from these scams. 
    I added “chief skeptic” to my title on my latest order of business cards for precisely this reason. 
    While scams like these are mind-blowing, I stand by my earlier remarks that far more damage is done to our credibility and consumers’ wallets by over-hyped mainstream technologies (radiant barrier, solar thermal, attic fans,tankless water heats, duct cleaning, super hi SEER, etc)all sold by one trick ponies stretching the truth.

  11. Mr. Kinder, I generally
    Mr. Kinder, I generally agree with you. Your last paragraph is interesting in that all of the named technologies, when properly applied, do work, and they can save energy. Am I correct that your criticism is of those who sell such stuff with indefensibly inflated claims of benefit versus cost? As I often say, one can believe all kinds of baloney so long he keeps his slide rule inserted in his rectum.

  12. Not attic fans, unless the
    Not attic fans, unless the attic / ceiling plane is exceptionally well sealed, and even then, the savings are cancelled by the operating cost. Georgia has banned them. 
    But yes, in general I am carping about my two least favorite words used to advertise energy conservation measures: “Up to” 
    As in, “if you install my doohickey, you’ll save “Up to” X percent…” when the truth is rather closer to X/10. There is usually just enough junk science to bamboozle and defraud clients, giving the rest of us a bad name. 
    Whenever energy prices rise, scammers emerge from the woodwork like the roaches they are. 

  13. This BS video if you want to
    This BS video if you want to call it that has been around with different skins for some time. Anything that shows a pic of a router or ANY device with an antena or two that is supposed to generate electricity is a laugh. What drew me in was the word “MACHINE”. A solar panel is NOT a machine. OK! SO what next? Let’s try to find this guys email and drown it!! Any takers? Anyone out there paid the 50 bucks for this nonsense and got this guys support email. 120,000 emaials a day should do it! LOL!!

  14. The Problem with the concept
    The Problem with the concept begins with….”Dear, now that WE have saved so much money, versus those POWER CRIMINALS, lets Help the WORLD!” I can just see him and his honeys sitting around a dinner table watching Leave it to Cleaver then saying…Oh, Yeah and let’s make a few BUCKs as well!” The BIG LIES always work on the desperate and stupid. I mean you tell me just how many Pannels you can buy for $92 bucks? Surely he cant mean create a pannel out of actual small parts? Maybe those found in the Garage or Kitchen going to waste? Like that Old Style Blender? Turn it into an Outboard Motor! But, as long as this company’s allowed to place their ads they know they can con someone. Plus, any word about money back good luck. Promises are always BS when it comes to CONs. Id once like to see something similar that states..”I already Made my Millions” Here have it for my guest. NO Strings attached its 100% FREE! Why? Because Ive already made my Millions why would I need your tiny $47 Bucks? Good Luck on seeing that ad anytime soon. Which reminds me. We are about DUE for that CON about Realestate or some Spin Off of the same BS.

  15. Did anyone else notice the
    Did anyone else notice the multiple misspellings and grammar mistakes in David Bradley’s drawings? 
    I, too, did the same as MCF above and am glad I came across your blog. Thanks 

  16. With my BS detector more
    With my BS detector more sensitive, thanks to Websites like this, I notice that most of these scams go through a long political or ideological rant before finally disclosing what the scammer is selling. My policy therefore is that unless the guy names his product within a minute I “pull the plug” (unless I just want to be amused).

  17. had to say that I watched the
    had to say that I watched the 45 minute ad also…it was kind of like a train wreck you just can’t look away from. 
    like you…my credit card remained safely in its little sleeve. but hey…maye caravan solar panels above has the answers folks seek…

  18. Thanks for the website. I can
    Thanks for the website. I can’t believe that TigerDirect allow them to advertise on their website. Glenn Beck talked about this on his show. I am not going to watch his show any more now that I know he is sponsor a liar and scam website. Thanks Glenn Beck. You are fake and full of it.

  19. Thank you so much for
    Thank you so much for blogging about this. For the longest time I’ve been seeing these “free energy” ads on many websites I frequent. They follow me because many of my web searches are energy related and they leave tracking cookies in my computer. My background is Alternative Energy (creating energy via carbon neutral or carbon free methods) and I wanted to destroy this David Bradley guy after getting 15 minutes into that stupid video. Everything he spouts is typical con artist flair. In no way can you just go to a hardware store and create your own off grid power system for under $200. It’s completely and utterly impossible! If you want to go completely off the grid, you’re looking at spending $20-$30K for the whole system. Between a third to half of that amount is in the cost of the solar panels and installation, the other half is the cost of the inverters and battery storage bank, and the rest is spent on your various controllers. Like buying a house, it is a capital investment and should be treated as such. Your ROI is in the amount of power being displaced every month that you’d normally be buying from the grid.

  20. I’m looking for information
    I’m looking for information which will either validate the claims made about this product or debunk it as a fraud.  
    The problem with your site, (as well as many others), You are ready to shoot it down as unbelievable yet you’ve never tried it.  
    None of you people has shelled out the bucks and attempted to build the system he talks about. 
    I want to know if it works. Not some bloggers opinion on how he feels about the “Copy” or how others feel about his claims. 
    Bottom line: Does it work? I’ll never know by what’s written here.

  21. Since you refuse to avail
    Since you refuse to avail yourself of the considered opinions of experts here then by all means have at it! 
    The value we experts add (for which you are here not asked to pay) is the application of our KSE (Knowledge, Skills and Experience) to analyze this and sundry similar claims, scams etc. 
    You are free to take it or leave it. 
    Certainly do please share with us the results if you attempt to construct the apparatus and replicate the performance claimed of the described contraptions.

  22. Gary Kinsey
    Gary Kinsey: What more do you need to know? It’s not possible for anyone to make their own solar cells at home. It requires laboratory ‘clean rooms’ and equipment more expensive than any homeowner trying to cut their electric bills can afford. It requires a deep understanding of semiconductors and electrical circuits that homeowners don’t possess. And wind turbines aren’t much easier.  
    If you’re so intrigued by that site’s claims (I won’t say David Bradley because I doubt he’s a real person) and you’ve got $47 you don’t care about, then knock yourself out. As Curt says, though, please come back here and tell us what you find.

  23. Responding to Gary Kinsey:
    Responding to Gary Kinsey:  
    Having worked about 30 years as an applied physicist in photovoltaic R&D;, I suppose I could qualify as an expert, and that is why I have commented here. If I found a way to make efficient solar panels an order of magnitude cheaper than current state of the art, it would make no sense to sell that “secret” for $47 a copy. I would go the normal route of filing for a patent and then publish my process in the professional journals. I would then either license the rights to an existing manufacturer or establish a new company. If the process was legitimate, the benefit both to society and to my fortune would be hundreds of times as great as from Bradley’s strategy. Furthermore, he tells virtually nothing about the class of PV he offers. Is it crystalline, thin film, single or multi-junction? Surely if he were on the level he could disclose that much without blowing his “secret” recipe.  
    In the interest of open mindededness. If anyone has taken up Bradley’s offer, then by all means report your results here.

  24. I’ve been seeing these ads
    I’ve been seeing these ads for a long time, and i finally broke down and clicked on the video. I started laughing when he started telling how he built his system for 92 dollars. I believe in “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. I did watch the whole video, out of boredom and amusement more than anything. I’m not going to give mr david bradley my cc number, but it was a good 45 minute laugh. It reminded me in a lot of ways of the infomercials on tv at 4am. I wonder how many people actually do buy his books, and try to build his panels?

  25. Ya know, this tactic is
    Ya know, this tactic is beling followed in Politics as well. Just look at our current adminstration….it’s not far different than how this guy is making 47 bucks. “Vote for me and I’ll change America”. People fell for that BS too! Oh!, yeah America has changed but not for the better. 
    Help educate people they need to THINK FOR THEMSELVES and not be taken in by well crafted messages.

  26. As many of you have stated, I
    As many of you have stated, I caught myself the minute I clicked on the ‘Add to Basket’ button. Why did I click? In think that, as commenters leave their thoughts on this very useful blog, they need to gently step back from framing those of use who have gotten caught up in Mr. Bradley’s ads as ‘stupid’ or ‘morons.’ The real genius to sucker advertising is that such an option as Mr. Bradley offers calls out the hopeful possibilities in our minds. We WANT alternative, green energy. we WANT to be off-grid as much as possible. We WANT it to be within our construction skills set. There is nothing moronic or stupid about feeling the pull of the possible…until you realize you’ve just clicked ‘Add to Basket’ and come to that complete and necessary STOP in your head that tells you its time do a wee bit of research by keywording ‘POWER FREEDOM REVIEWS’ and hitting ‘send.’ Yup, its about as bad one thought it would be. So if there is any upside (besides ditching the slams ‘moron’ and ‘idiot’, feel free to not make judgement calls on others) is that all of this has made me realize I really do care about the possibilities and am willing at the time of designing our house to ensure that we invest in well-made, properly installed systems. And even then I will do due diligence on both the product options and the installer(s). Not bad for a moronic idiot, eh? So in the end, Mr. Bradley does not get my credit card number to resell, and I get re-energized (sorry) to go forward with the addition of energy back-ups on a new house.

  27. Deborah:
    Deborah: Good for you! I’m glad you didn’t go through with the purchase, and if this article played any role in that decision, it was worth it for me to spend the hours watching the video and writing the article. You make some important points about how they play on people’s emotions and desires, and that’s exactly why I wanted to write the article. Plenty of well-meaning people without the experience or technical knowledge to understand that it can’t be true are likely to fall for it. I’m glad you didn’t.

  28. Thank you for the time you
    Thank you for the time you invested to expose this scam and others like it. 

  29. Thank you for the honest and
    Thank you for the honest and well written article that saves us all many minutes and dollars to inefficient solutions. It is always best to hire a professional when working with electricity, as a matter of safety for us all. I think the most interesting part to this story is that there is a need to empower ourselves to become better stewards in our neighborhoods and homes. With a library card, or a few clicks on the internet, we all can eventually add value to our bottom line at home with smart investment choices. It is good to remember, if it is quick it often is not easy or as inexpensive a solution as we would like. Invest in your future, and you will always find a great solution for the long term.

  30. ACK!! Sadly, I did click…
    ACK!! Sadly, I did click… yes… I fell for it… but.. it showed pay only 4.95 now and 47.00 in a month. We will ship and if you don’t like the stuff, we will take it back and refund the money. So I did… however, the site kept saying my card was incorrect (PayPal card). So I double checked the code and entered again… nope… still a problem. I changed the ship to address.. negative.. darn… put the unit number in the proper spot and clicked again. Zip.. wont work… “we can’t process your request. Darn it… then.. checked PayPal. THREE charges pending. Not for 4.99 as promised but 14.99 each one. grrr.. I emailed and requested a cancellation of all three fees. I also did a bit more research and found a telephone number in Ontario Canada for this company.. funny.. I thought it was an America company. Either way. I will report back on what happened when I get more information. Today is January 21/14 about 1 pm pacific time. Wish me luck. 

  31. My absolute favorite part of
    My absolute favorite part of the video is when the fictitious daughter comes to her Dad, cloaked in her favorite blanket, lips blue, teddy bear in tow and says Daddy, I’m COLD. This is when the phony father decides hes MAD! 
    MAD at the greedy government electrical company! ( I was unaware that the Government owned/operated all of the electrical companies ) MAD at the evil Mother Nature!! And most of all…. MAD at himself!!! 
    I almost fell out of my office chair laughing so hard. Its a brilliant concept using parents need to take care of their children to make them feel they need to spend money on snake oil.  
    What a catch 22 when using those charged up emotions actually has you do the thing your trying to protect your children from. 
    Its an old and well manicured technique still being utilized in mainstream sales.

  32. LoL, i have a real way to
    LoL, i have a real way to turn your electricity into revenue.  
    Ive been seeing this ad for awhile and thought it was a load of crap from the get go, but finally since I started mining cryptocurrencies with my video cards i figure i might as well see what it has to say. 
    $92 hardly buys a cheeseburger there is no way its going to buy all the components i need to make my money back on power. Ill just stick with paying my local power company 13 cents per kwh to mine crypto currencies with my 10 video cards, sell the scrypt coins for bitcoins then cash out to pay the power company.

  33. In spite of these scams,
    In spite of these scams, there are plenty of honest legitimate solar energy companies. When crooks tarnish a basically beneficial industry. They not only hurt the “good guys” but provide anecdotal propaganda for the detractors in the fossil fuel businesses.

  34. Update to my post January 22
    Update to my post January 22/14 
    All three charges were cancelled and nothing is being shipped to me. I got lucky. 
    Cheers all. 

  35. I knew it was a scam from the
    I knew it was a scam from the very beginning. The mispelled word “Theif” 

  36. Interestingly, if anyone
    Interestingly, if anyone wants to try this, there seem to be plenty of videos on Youtube about how to build your own solar panels cheaply. I have no idea if it’s impossible and requires a “clean room” or not… At least the YouTube instructions don’t seem to be asking for money.

  37. You guys all missed it!!! If
    You guys all missed it!!! If you don’t do anything after the video plays (in about one or two minutes) he comes back on and say “Still here? Still want an even better deal? Instead of the $47 of my very last offer, if you push the buy now button RIGHT NOW, I will let you have this incredible package for only $27!!!” 
    Nope, I didn’t push it, but have been wondering about it for a day now. I’m glad I won’t be referred to as a “moron” or “stupid”. I would hope that everyone here can understand we each have different levels and dynamics in understanding, trust, and desires to do the right thing.

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