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This Man Conned Dozens Of Employees Into Working For A Fake Company For NO MONEY!

BCC news report on Madbird

You’ve heard of catfishing; now it’s time we add “jobfishing” to the list of terrors internet users have to be on the lookout for!

On Monday, BBC News published a horrifying investigation into Madbird, a supposed design agency run by a social media influencer — who was apparently conning dozens of real employees across the world into working for months for no pay. After speaking to former employees of the now-defunct firm and the clients it purported to have worked with, the BBC found that much of Madbird’s existence was total bull.

According to the outlet, many of the “employees” who rounded out the company’s Zoom calls were fake, while senior employees listed on the company’s website were actually stolen identities of models and social media users who didn’t work at Madbird at all. (The headshots the site used for the brand’s supposed co-founder, Dave Stanfield, for example, are actually of Prague-based beehive maker Michal Kalis!)

If that’s not enough, the address where Madbird claimed to have a swanky London office ended up being a residential apartment block in West London, and one of the company’s pitch documents had apparently been ripped off from an actual London-based design firm.

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Obviously, a trap like this could only be orchestrated by a self-aggrandizing creep rivaling the Tinder Swindler and the Fyre Festival guy, right? In that regard, Madbird founder Ali Ayad (above) certainly doesn’t disappoint: he allegedly photoshopped himself into a magazine ad and filled his LinkedIn profile with fake “recommendations” to support his tall tales of working as a creative director at Nike. He also allegedly told employees many different versions of his story: to one person, he was a Mormon from Utah, while others knew him as a native of Lebanon — where he learned how to be a hustler thanks to a difficult childhood, naturally. Sometimes he added a second “y” to his surname, spelling it “Ayyad”, and other times he signed off as “Alex Ayd”.

Over 50 people fell for the ruse. Many worked in sales, pitching Madbird to possible business clients in hopes of winning deals to redesign websites or build apps, while some worked in design, and others were brought in to supervise. Like most other employees amid the pandemic, everyone worked from home and communicated over email and Zoom.

Unlike most other employees, however, Madbird staff wasn’t getting paid because of the unusual way their contracts were laid out: they all agreed to work on a commission-only basis for the first six months, after which they would be put on a salary. Unfortunately, the staffers didn’t see a penny because no client contracts had ever been signed.

The facade came crumbling down last year, two weeks after 27-year-old designer Gemma Brett started at the company. Wondering what her commute would be like when the pandemic was over, she searched for the company’s office address, and found that it looked nothing like the hip workspace shown on the company’s website: it was actually a block of flats in London’s Kensington.

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After confirming from an estate agent that the building was residential, Gemma shared her discovery with another Madbird employee she had gotten to know and trust, Antonia Stuart, who was leading the company’s expansion into Dubai. Together, they used reverse image searches and found that pretty much all the work Madbird claimed to have done had been stolen from somewhere else online — and that some of the colleagues they’d been chatting with virtually didn’t actually exist!

They decided to send an all-staff email from an alias (Jane Smith), accusing Madbird’s founders of “unethical and immoral” behavior like stealing the work of others and “fabricating” team members. Shortly after, the BBC launched its own probe into the company and found that it had been lying about pretty much everything. The network contacted all 42 brands Madbird had listed as former clients; none of those that responded had ever worked with the brand. Nike confirmed to the BBC in writing it hadn’t employed anyone with Ali’s name, or any of his aliases. The prestigious universities Ali said he went to didn’t even offer the degrees he claimed to have studied.

The morning after Gemma and Antonia sent their email to the staff, Ali essentially played dumb, writing in his own email to the team:

“If any of this information came to be true. shocking to me as it’s shocking to all of you.”

Cute. Rhymes. Not at all helpful though.

He promised to remove Madbird’s website and pause all ongoing work “until we fix this,” then sent one last message before signing off for a final time — and blocking those that tried to reach out to him:

“I have put 16 hours every single day for months and done the best that I could to make this work. I should’ve known better and for that I’m truly sorry.”

For that he’s sorry??

Months after the dust settled, Ali agreed to sit down with the BBC to give his version of events, but he dropped out of the interview with a day’s notice. The network tracked him down to a west London street last October and confronted the charlatan in person.

At first, Ali ignored the reporter’s questions, but after a while insisted he had been trying to do something good. He said:

“All I know is that we created opportunities for people. In the midst of Covid.”

Opportunities for people to do tons of work for NOTHING?? The man of mystery got angry when the BBC accused him of creating fake identities and stealing other people’s work, sneering:

“I did? How do you know I did?”

Ali also insisted that Madbird did have an office, but backpedaled when he was challenged on that point, implying he meant a virtual office. While later speaking to the outlet via email, he admitted that a “couple of points” he was being accused of were true, but wouldn’t say which, adding that the “majority” of the 24 separate points he was accused of were “absurd and incorrect”. He told the outlet he would respond more in depth… but never did.

For now, he’s still out there, telling who knows what to anyone else foolish enough to listen.

Ch-ch-check out the video (below) for more on this crazy story and STAY SAFE OUT THERE!

[Image via BBC News]

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Feb 22, 2022 12:37pm PDT