An investigation has found that around 50 people got “jobfished” during the pandemic and thought they worked for a glamorous design agency called Madbird.
According to a BBC investigation, ‘entrepreneur’ Ali Ayad tricked dozens of people into thinking they were employees of a company called Madbird.
He hired employees in sales and design roles, and instructed all staff to work from home, communicating over email and via Zoom.
Crucially, all employees had agreed to work on a commission-only basis for the first six months of employment, after which they would be put on a salary of around £35,000. It was also agreed that they would earn a percentage of any deal they brought in.
BBC highlighted that the victims of the scam felt desperate for employment during the pandemic, and were convinced by the company’s site, as well as Ayad’s online presence, including impressive Linkedin profile and social media following.
However, the “jobfishing” was eventaully uncovered by Gemma Brett, a 27-year-old designer from west London, who Googled the company’s headquarters after joining.
After contacting an estate agent, she discovered that it wasn’t anything to do with a design firm called Madbird, and, after telling another colleague, they discovered that Madbird’s content was stolen from other company websites, and some of the members of staff didn’t even exist.
The BBC found that at least six of the most senior employees profiled by Madbird were fake and the company had not been “shipping products and experiences locally and globally for 10 years” , as it said on the site.
It is believed that Ayad stole images of other people online and created fake identities, and didn’t attend the prestigious universities he had put on his Linkedin, nor worked at Nike as a Creative Director. He had also lied about all the clients the company had worked with, including Tate and Toni & Guy.
In response to the accusations, Ayad pleaded ignorance, writing it was “shocking to me as it’s shocking to all of you”, and said to staff he would take full responsibility. He then later blocked and ignored all messages and calls.
The BBC investigation revealed that because no deals or client contracts were ever closed or signed, employees were never paid for their work at the agency.
Three former workers pursued Madbird through an employment tribunal, arguing they should at least be paid minimum wage for their time.
The BBC revealed that Ayad didn’t respond to the tribunal in the time frame needed, and so a judge ordered the trio be paid £19,000 in wages in total. Ayad is now appealing.