This man tricked dozens into working for design agency that never existed

A BBC investigation on Monday revealed how a digital design company called Madbird run by a charismatic social media influencer called Ali Ayad conned several people — from London to India — and never paid them.

The company had dozens of real employees across the world but much of Madbird’s existence was faked.

Fake employees reportedly bulked out the company’s Zoom calls, and senior employees listed on the company’s website didn’t appear to work at Madbird at all.

Even the photos the company claimed to be of its co-founder appeared to be of a beehive maker from Prague.

“At least six of the most senior employees profiled by Madbird were fake. Their identities stitched together using photos stolen from random corners of the internet and made-up names. They included Madbird’s co-founder, Dave Stanfield – despite him having a LinkedIn profile and Ali referring to him constantly,” said the report.

“Ali told one employee that if they wanted to get in touch with Mr Stanfield they should email him, because he was too busy with projects for Nike to jump on a call.”

Even a magazine ad featuring the company’s founder appears to have been photoshopped.

“The whole thing was fake — the real employees had been ‘jobfished’,” reported the BBC.

Madbird hired more than 50 others. Most worked in sales, some in design and some were brought in to supervise. Every new joiner was instructed to work from home – messaging over email and speaking to each other on Zoom.

“Madbird’s HR department posted job ads online for an international sales team based out of Dubai. At least a dozen people from Uganda, India, South Africa, the Philippines and elsewhere were hired,” the report noted.

Ali Ayad has over 90,000 followers on his Instagram and in his bio, he describes himself as an “influencer”.

“Elon Musk works 16 hours a day, I’m trying to do 17!” he wrote in one email trying to motivate his team.

They had all agreed to work on a commission-only basis for the first six months.

It was only after they passed their probation period that they would be put on a salary – about $47,300 for most.

“But no deals were ever finalised. By February 2021, not a single client contract had been signed. None of the Madbird staff had been paid a penny,” the report mentioned.

“Some recruits ended up leaving after a few weeks, but many stayed. Many had been there for almost six months – forced to take out credit cards and borrow money from family to keep on top of bills.”


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