This looked like another boring spammy e-mail asking me to link to a site full of crap or post someone's ready-made advertorial in return for a kickback, but it turned out to be a lot more entertaining.

From: Strickman Ripps <>
To: <>
Subject: Hey Dan, what about this idea?
Date: Thu, 2 Jul 2009 16:32:40 -0400

Hi Dan. My name is Jeremiah Pietroniro and I am working with Strickman Research out of NYC. We are looking for people who have made suggestions about operating systems in forums over the course of the last few years. We think that your readers might be just the people we're looking for. If you are interested in posting something to get their attention and get them to speak with us, we have a proposal for you.

I've included a form letter that explains in greater detail what and who I am talking about. Thanks for taking a moment to check it out.


Subject: Research Proposal

Dear Administrator:

My name is Jeremiah Pietroniro and I am with Strickman Research in New York City. We have been hired by Microsoft to conduct a paid, international blog and forum research study, finding people who have commented on various versions of their Windows OS. You have probably already been contacted by Microsoft about this research study. We are looking for people who have previously made suggestions or expressed their wishes about certain features or functions they would like to see in future versions of Windows and/or features that they currently appreciate in the Windows 7 Beta.

We are wondering if we could pay you for your assistance in reaching out to your site users? We would like to find these people by announcing our search in a system-wide email to all your users. In order to preserve the integrity of our findings, we must withhold Microsoft's name from this study. We kindly ask for your understanding and cooperation in this. It is imperative that Microsoft's name not appear in any further written or verbal communication.

We are proposing a $500 US up-front payment to your website (via Paypal) for sending out our call for submissions by email to all your users. (Please see the text of our proposed email below.*) You would receive an additional $25 US per person for each person from your site that qualifies for and participates in our research video interview, for which they would be paid $100 US.

We realize that privacy is a concern and can assure you that any respondents who choose to participate will only be contacted in connection with this project and their personal information will not be stored or shared for any other purpose.

We thank you for your consideration and for providing such a great platform for the tech community.

Please let me know your thoughts about this proposal or any facet of our project. I look forward to hearing from you.


Jeremiah Pietroniro
Strickman Research
66 W. Broadway #602
New York, NY 10007

Proposed e-mail from Hosts to Members

Subject: your opinion + 20 minutes = $100

Dear Member:

Strickman Research, a marketing research firm, has contacted us for assistance in reaching out to you with this invitation to participate in a paid research study. If you qualify for the study, they would ask for no more than 20 minutes of your time and would pay you $100 US:

What are we researching?

We are looking for people who have left comments on various blogs and forums about operating system software they've used. We are looking for people who have previously "published" their suggestions online and expressed their wishes for certain features or functions they would like to see in future versions of various PC operating systems. Such comments can run the gamut from very technical to very broad, for instance comments like: "I wish it would boot faster." or "How can I share files between my home computers?" would suffice. The wishes and suggestions can be implied in a question where one is hoping to find a solution to a particular problem.

We are looking for comments published online between 1/2005 – 12/2008. More recent, positive assessments of newer operating systems published in 2009 may also be pertinent.

How do I participate?

If you left a written comment on a blog, forum or informational website which was, broadly speaking, a suggestion or wish for a certain feature or function you would like to see improved in your computer's operating system, please find your specific comment or comments online and paste the address/es in an email to us at

Please include:

1. The link to your comment/s including the date when it/they was/were posted

2. Your username on that/those site/s

3. Full name

4. Email address

5. Phone number

6. Location (CityState/Country)

7. Best time to be reached

What should I expect?

Once we have received your email, and reviewed your comment/s, a representative from Strickman Research will contact you by phone to ask you a few qualifying questions. This call will take no more than 10 minutes of your time. If you qualify (95% of applicants should qualify) we will schedule you for a recorded internet video chat at your convenience that would take no more than 20 minutes of your time and for which you would be paid $100 US in the form of a VISA cash card.

What if I don't qualify?

If you do not meet the criteria for our research study, we will most likely let you know in the first few minutes of our phone call. We will not trouble you any further and we will not store or share you contact information.

What if I have other questions?

Please email us. We look forward to hearing from you.

Many thanks for your consideration,

Jeremiah Pietroniro
Strickman Research
66 W. Broadway #602
New York, NY 10007

Insert movie times and more without leaving Hotmail®. See how.

(That's right - Mr Pietroniro is sending his super-secret big-buck Microsoft marketing messages from a Hotmail account.)

My favourite part is definitely " preserve the integrity of our findings ... It is imperative that Microsoft's name not appear".

I really don't know what to make of this. It's weird. I mean, even ignoring the DON'T TELL ANYBODY IT'S COMMISSIONED BY MICROSOFT OMG part for a moment, look at the bizarrely huge payouts they're offering. You usually only see promised rewards of this magnitude in classic "Make Money By Filling Out Surveys!" scams.

"95% of applicants should qualify", times the number of applicants even moderately popular sites like mine could drum up in response to a "$US100 for a 20 minute survey" offer, would start running into the millions of dollars in only a day or two. All you need to make it past the starting gate, after all, is a comment on a forum somewhere in which you express your wish that future operating systems will include one of those fascinating doughnut-making machines. Write your comment, e-mail the survey people, wait for your promised 95% chance of making $US100 in 20 minutes.

Perhaps Strickman Research only have enough people in their phone bank to handle a small number of surveys a day, which'd keep the total cost down. But then, of course, a more accurate description of the deal would be that "99% of applicants will never even get a call".

(The payment, via "Visa cash card", may be on the dodgy side too; those things are apparently often something of a rip-off all by themselves, and I've no idea how, or even if, the deal would work for people outside the USA.)

Keeping the identity of the sponsor a secret is not actually, by itself, an ethical problem. You need to disclose who sponsored a survey if and when you publicly release the results, but there's no need to disclose the sponsor to the people being surveyed - actually, disclosing the sponsor can often prejudice the results. This especially applies in situations like political polling, where telling someone that the survey is being run by the party they hate, or indeed by the party they love, may plausibly cause them to say things they don't really believe just to move the poll results one way or another. (This is kind of the opposite of a "push poll"; there's a lengthy analysis of these issues here.)

This same argument definitely also applies to people's computer-operating-system preferences. There are plenty of people who have a more distinct preference for a particular OS than they have for any political party.

But then again, people are perfectly happy to offer Microsoft advice on improving Windows for free, all the time, all over the place. This offer is only extended to people who've already expressed such an opinion, and I find it hard to believe that just being honest and saying "Microsoft is soliciting user feedback about features you'd like to see in future versions of Windows" wouldn't be just as effective.

Do they really think they'll gain access to some wellspring of OS-design inspiration by offering large amounts of money from a secret source?

Actually, at this point I wouldn't be surprised if the whole thing turned out to be some kind of scam, that doesn't actually have anything to do with Microsoft at all. While fishing around to see what the heck is going on, I found this blog post, from someone who just received an instant message from another "Strickman Ripps" person. That blogger has, I think not unreasonably, decided the message could be from a scam artist, based on this same weird promise of lots of money for no real effort, from someone with another darn Hotmail address.

Even if this really is a genuine offer from a rather unprofessional company whose services Microsoft have actually retained, offering someone a substantial lump of money in return for (a) publicity and (b) keeping something about the publicity deal secret... that just smells wrong, to me.

Accepting restrictions on journalistic freedom in return for "access" to news sources is bad enough. Accepting restrictions in return for a plain old pile of money is way over the line.

I'm not suggesting that some survey about computer operating systems is a major journalistic-ethics battleground. I think it's actually only a couple of notches above the everyday situation where entertainment reporters can have their very own five-minute interview with Mister Big Movie Star, on condition that they don't ask him anything about his bizarre religion.

But I'm generally in favour of letting cats out of bags. Especially if some PR agency with an advanced Web site demands that the cats remain within said bag.

That $500 would have been a nice contribution to my new-PC fund. But it now occurs to me that you readers can all pretend you read about the deal somewhere else and never saw the word "Microsoft" anywhere, then write an OS-feature-suggestion comment on your favourite scrapbooking or Twilight fanfic forum, then apply for your 95%-guaranteed hundred bucks, and after you get your money, kick back a little of it to me!

What could possibly go wrong?!


  1. dr_w00t Says:

    From the Google ads:
    Free Online Cash Surveys
    Get Paid $25-$75 Cash per Survey Free to Join, see if you qualify

    Followed up immediately by:
    "Paid" Surveys Are Scams?
    Most "Paid " Surveys Are Scams Some Are Legit - We Found Only 3

    That's the second time I've seen a Google ad trash talking its competitors. The second link tells you how it's complete rubbish that you can make $100ph sitting around taking surveys... then follows it up with:

    But there is a way to get paid $75 to $100 an hour doing this kind of work. No joke. It's really kinda like a secret. I'll tell you in a minute.


  2. reyalp Says:

    From their (horrid) web site, it looks like testimonials are a large part of their gig. The fact that they want a video chat tells me this is about marketing material, not an actual survey.

    For video testimonials, $100 a pop plus paying a few web site owners $500 to spam their user base might still be cheaper than hiring actors. They say "95% of candidates should qualify" but who's going to find out if they don't ?

    That's all assuming this actually originates from strickman-ripps of course, but given that the response address in the email body, that seems plausible.

    It's all pretty weird, but never underestimate the stupidity of marketing droids. Certainly could be a scam, but I don't quite see the angle. You'd have to go further into the process to find out.

    They have a blog BTW:

  3. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Oh, riiiight - that makes some sense.

    But, as you say, not terribly MUCH sense, seeing as they're soliciting people who've posted comments on Web sites, promising them money, and apparently assuming that if thousands of people respond and almost none of them get their money, the disgruntled majority will not then go on to post more comments, on more web sites, complaining about this.

  4. reyalp Says:

    apparently assuming that if thousands of people respond and almost none of them get their money, the disgruntled majority will not then go on to post more comments, on more web sites, complaining about this

    Well yes, there is that. OTOH if this is real, the whole "OMG sekret don't mention microsoft" suggests that thinking things through isn't exactly their strong suit.

  5. Alex Whiteside Says:

    So, their street address is real, and they've put out circulars about hosting commercial acting workshops there and asking for people with certain illnesses to give them pharmaceutical testimonials. With the wonders of Google Street View, it seems that there are office buildings there. From their site content it seems they're a legit video testimonials company, inasmuch places that film video testimonials can be legit (they offer both "real people" and union/non-union actors). They also seem to do genuine market research, but not on video. It's also the registration address for Fresh Perspectives,, who (assuming I'm parsing their mission statement correctly) are in exactly the same line of business.

    (It's also listed as the address for "Balliett & Fitzgerald Inc." in somebody's bibliography, which I assume may have been the previous occupant. They're a small publisher and used book seller. Another previous occupant is Span-NY, an architecture firm, and yet another architecture firm with a different name.)

    I'm guessing that the scam is that "95%" is hilariously over-inflated and they only use maybe 3-4, and those people then get paid. Or like you say, 95% of the people who give video testimonials get paid, but that only a tiny fraction of respondents get asked to do a testimonial. As for the testimonials themselves, maybe they're not allowed to mention MS in the email because the results aren't actually for MS. Maybe Apple needs a new "PCs are for retards who can't recognise when they're being fucked by Microsoft" montage.

  6. Yert Says:

    Thanks for linking me. Anyways, it turns out it isn't a scam.

    [Really? -Dan]

    Still, the details are always sketchy. How many people can they be giving money to, y'know?

    [So... it is a scam. -Dan]

  7. corinoco Says:

    For $500 I'll say whatever MS wants! It's not being a shill per se, I would call it 'acting'. Actors get paid to say things they may not believe all the time, why not join in?

    Serious though, this has to be a scam. Sony has been burnt by using shills; I would hope that the marketroids at MS are wiser. It is a bit odd that this email wants to pay people to do what they have been doing for free for years through Microsoft Connect - MS's own site for improvement comments.

    The sneaky side of me thinks that this might be a smear campaign, possibly even a blackmail campaign against MS. It's only a few months to the launch of Windows 7, and MS could be greatly embarrassed by evidence of a shill campaign. It might actually be worth sending this to MS Marketing to see what they have to say.

    As for paid market research, I do that here occasionally, though we don't get paid that much for $20 mins! It would be great if we did.

    (Anecdote: I was on a tasting panel for one of those alcopops a few years back. It is sickly sweet stuff, but hey, free vodka! They asked 'what kind of person do you think this drink is aimed at?' and for some reason got very annoyed when I kept answering 'bought by 15-yr-old boys to give to 14-yr-old girls'. They seemed genuinely surprised that this might occur with what was effectively Fanta with vodka in it. End Anecdote)

  8. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Actors get paid to say things they may not believe all the time, why not join in?

    Because there's a difference between pretending to be a fictional character and pretending to be a real person - or playing yourself, but professing beliefs that you do not actually hold.

    In these latter cases, you are clearly being dishonest, and arguably guilty of fraud.

  9. Popup Says:

    I've actually participated in a user survey for what I believe was a microsoft product. And I got paid the equivalent of USD100 for the 30-minute interview. However, I believe that they didn't cast their net quite as wide as this. (They specifically wanted C-programmers with low-level assembly experience. The offer actually came to me through my boss!)

    The reason I'm mentioning this is that MS must have a pretty big budget for that kind of surveys. They had set up camp in a fairly posh down-town hotel, and were interviewing about 50 people per day, for at least three days. And if I understood the small-talk correctly this was only one of many stops for this particular team.

    Today, with video-interviewing it would be possible to conduct a much wider survey for a similar budget.

  10. Yert Says:

    I don't think it is a scam in the sense of what I initially feared, which was spam and identity theft. I just thought it could still be sketchy on how many people got money for their work. Furthermore, your comment about Microsoft not being linked to this is very troubling. I would not be affected in my answers by knowing whether Microsoft commissioned a survey or not, I'd answer the best way I would think it would help Windows (or whatever other OS) become better.

  11. Jens Says:


    Please include:
    1. The link to your comment/s including the date when it/they was/were posted
    2. Your username on that/those site/s
    3. Full name
    4. Email address
    5. Phone number
    6. Location (CityState/Country)
    7. Best time to be reached

    At the very least, where I live (Germany) this is very valuable data on one preposition:
    They have to claim somewhere in the fine print that you may receive "valuable information and offers" from 3rd party ... whatevers.
    See it is specifically forbidden to call or to send e-mail without me hmm "agreeing" to that (which I would have done by sending them this info). I'm suspecting this might be the same elsewhere. In Germany not obeying this rule can get very expensive if you get caught. Not to mention the drop in public opinion if you are a somewhat respectable company. So what to do?
    Making a survey, of course, as this is not forbidden.
    Do not forget to get permission to "call again" and you can then do as you wish. Talk about a loophole.

  12. reyalp Says:

    Jens: That's possible, but they do claim:

    If you do not meet the criteria for our research study, we will most likely let you know in the first few minutes of our phone call. We will not trouble you any further and we will not store or share you contact information.

    Seems like that would come back to bite them.

    According to godaddy whois, domain has been registered since '99. Since it doesn't look like squatter bait, that also suggests they've been around for a while.

  13. vision4bg Says:

    Dan, I wrote out quite a lengthy reply explaining how this is all fairly standard practice for usability studies, but your crappy Blogsome setup for leaving comments trashed it.

    So the short version is: I've run lots of usability studies in the past, and apart from the weird/dodgy recruiting method it all sounds kosher.

  14. Matt-S Says:

    It seems pretty obvious to me what he'd be doing here. Obviously they can't actually pay that kind of money, so probably won't pay anything. but If I were running this scam. I'd set up the link / questionaire, to post these various comments / tech queries to hundreds of different blogs / websites all linked to keywords releating to windows 7. thus earning myself huge google page ranking on any searches with windows 7 as a keyword, and many, many common search terms, especially early discovered problems with the beta.

    that could be incredibly valuable.

  15. Dan Todd Says:

    I wouldn't be surprised if this 'market research' was part of a marketing campaign. I can see MS acknowledging that Vista wasn't as great as they thought, and creating a perception that they went out and listened to their users and have included their suggestions in the new Windows 7 campaign.

    I think that you'll see the videos of the surveys being included in some kind of ad. They'll have a 'Dan wants his computer to do X, so we made it happen' message.

    I have no reason to think this, but It does seem like a sensible course of action. It could also justify the money being spent.

  16. Alex Whiteside Says:

    reyalp: Yeah, it seems to be a very established company.

  17. youguysarefools Says:

    you guys are fools.

  18. sri-australia Says:

    Well, I don't know what to tell you guys. It's a real survey executed by Strickman-Ripps who were hired by Microsoft.

    Concealing the fact that Microsoft commissioned the survey is standard practice. Basic human psychology teaches us that knowing who is behind a survey will color our views. This is not controversial. Trying our best to be unbiased is never the same as being blissfully ignorant.

    Dan, it appears that you wanted to divulge truth to the people. Traditionally, truth-telling types would use their journalistic talents to first discover more information and find the story before publishing. The place to start would be the source of the original information, in this case, me. Instead of asking me any questions, you chose to post my email here on "How to Spot a Psychopath." Of course, no new sounds emerge from an echo chamber.

    Traditionally, a journalist would only publish the story without following up with one of the main characters if the seemingly-fishy person or company stonewalled or refused to reply.

    I respect your freedom to do as you see fit and right and rather than question your integrity, I will assume that you probably really do wish to uncover the scams out there. I suggest you employ some of the keystone principles of journalism and steel yourself and your blog against what is known as the echo-chamber effect. This will only assist you in the battle you are waging. Every bit of success you achieve will be a benefit to all of us. Good luck with that.

    Anyone interested in learning more about the echo-chamber can find lots of information out there, but here's one random link that discusses the problem:

    All the best,

    Jeremiah Pietroniro

  19. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Hi there, Jerry!

    I'm sure you're right about to tell us all how many millions of dollars Microsoft has put in a big sack for you to hand out to people, and what, if anything, Microsoft would like people to say in return for this money. Because, at the moment, it looks as if you're offering money to pretty much everyone with an Internet connection, but only actually intend to give that money to a few very specially selected people. Say it ain't so, Jerry!

    (I would have thought you'd have been able to find a few bucks for a non-Hotmail e-mail address along the way, and thereby not make yourself look like some crazy guy pretending to have an actual job in the internationally-acclaimed field of public relations. But what do I know; apparently I'm a mindless echo-chamber Microsoft-hater who barely spared the time to post this between anti-Windows Slashdot comments! And there was me, just this moment installing Vista on my new PC - but maybe you're right, and everything I know is a lie! Perhaps I'm actually trapped in a solipsistic nightmare, my living brain floating in a jar in Richard Stallman's basement! Dear god!)

    Anyway, Jerry, any time would be fine for you to explain how 95% of the people who have ever said something on the Web about OS features they'd like to see will qualify to make $100 in 20 minutes thanks to your amazing offer. Note that even if the only string you search for is "why can't Windows", you still get more than 30,000 hits.

    But wait - there I go again, mindlessly echo-chambering my way to Google, the search engine that people use only because everybody says the Microsoft alternative is rubbish, not because Google actually works! Thank goodness you've set me right - off to Microsoft Chandler Bing I shall go and do the same search and- three hundred and seventy-three MILLION results?!

    Holy crap, Jerry - you're right! Microsoft really IS better!

    My head's in a spin, Jerry! I don't know what to think! For your offer to be honest, would you need many millions of dollars, or hundreds of billions of dollars, as Bing suggests? Microsoft - oh no, I said their name again; perhaps it's like the King In Yellow and any second now Steve Ballmer will erupt from my DSL connection and eat my very soul! - would seem to me, for your claim to be truthful, to need to create a new division of quite substantial size just to perform the vast number of video interviews in a timely fashion. If Bing's right, they'll need to suck up most of the US economic bailout, just to pay people to sit in front of a webcam. Are there that many webcams in the WORLD, Jerry? Take pity on us and let us know!

    We're all eagerly awaiting your elucidation. Seriously.

    As strange as it may seem to you, I suggest you try telling the truth.

  20. dr_w00t Says:

    That's the most sarcastic post I've ever seen Dan make.

  21. monomer Says:

    And there was me, just this moment installing Vista on my new PC - but maybe you're right, and everything I know is a lie!

    Neat! Does this mean that we'll be seeing an article about your travails in selecting the components for your new computer soon?

  22. Jonadab Says:

    If you don't see the angle here, you don't have the imagination to make a living as a scam artist.

    It's simple. Use the victim's greed to circumvent his brain.

    First, the perpetrator gets the victim to suspend his scepticism and dare to hope that the Too Good To Be True claim might actually be for real. Once you get him to start thinking it MIGHT be real, and to start thinking about how much he wants the thing that's on offer, you've got him. Now you can get him to invest time and effort into it, just a little bit at first... Once he starts to do that, he develops a vested emotional interest in the thing, at which point he's like the monkey with his hand in the jar who can't let go of the nuts to escape. You get him to invest a little more (in for a penny, in for a pound), and a little more, and pretty soon you have him for real money.

    Ponzi scams, pyramics schemes, and advanced fee fraud (419 scams) all operate on this same principle, give or take a couple of details.

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