I don't know exactly when it started, but the volume is growing every day. I am referring to emails, emanating from such well known companies as: E-Market Expert, Acquired Businesses, Sale-Perform and Application Users. And what are these companies selling? Data. Lots of it. And at bargain prices.

Within the last 48 hours, I learned that I could obtain contact information on individuals in almost any industry, all with revenue data and SIC/NAICS codes, all with verified emails addresses and all of them opt-in names. And not to worry about legitimacy because "All data obtained legally from optin channels," as Stevenson Trina assured me in an email. That Stevenson's return email address is a metal stamping company in Germany should, I presume, not be cause for concern.

What's going on? I am not sure. While the senders of these emails will often describe themselves as "a leading player in the list vending industry," and suchlike, the only commonality I have discovered so far is that none of them have working websites. Phone numbers, when offered, go directly to voicemail. And email addresses tend to be with the big providers of free email accounts.

What's remarkable is that databases and lists have become such a mainstream business tool that they are now becoming the subject of scams. Because for scammers, there is nothing better than a product that everybody needs, but few really understand. Unfortunately, none of this does any good for the legitimate data industry, because these dubious data offers -- even if the recipient doesn't respond -- create a sense of commodity in the eyes of potential buyers: data is commonly available, data is cheap, industry coding and revenues should be available on 100% of records, etc.

How exactly do these presumed scams work? I can't say I know for sure, but one person I talked to believes that these operators are not really out to sell data as much as they are out to collectdata. Every email open becomes a "verified" email address. Every opt-out request becomes a "responsive name." And for those who might actually send in 50 or more sample names as part of the company's offer to demonstrate its data appending skills, well that's 50 more names acquired for nothing. Crazy? Or just a crazy twist on user-generated content? These days, it's hard to say!


PS -- Just a quick note to mention that the generous early-bird discount price for DataContent 2011 expires imminently, so take a moment and register now!