People were tricked into being part of the employees of a fictitious company
The owner of the company promised his employees $47,300 a year.
Through a video call on the Zoom social network, 40 participants were connected, or at least they appeared to be. This meeting of new employees of the design agency was called to welcome new members to the growing company.
Madbird, as the company was called, and its articulate boss, Ali Ayad, wanted everyone to be recruiters with big ambitions just like him.
However, unknown to those who had their webcam active, many of those present at the meeting were not real people.
They appeared as members of the meeting, most of them had emails and profiles on social networks, but their names were fictitious and their image corresponded to other people.
Everything around this meeting was false, the real employees were victims of the " jobfish " (term in English for the practice of false work on the web).
Job guarantee in a pandemic
In the city of Manchester, a 27-year-old sales manager named Chris Doocey started at the Madbird company in October 2020, months before the aforementioned Zoom conference.
In the working conditions, they told him that he would work from home, with a pandemic in full swing, it was normal.
COVID-19 had hit Chris' life hard, he lost his job and for this reason he applied for the job at Madbird.
The job posting described the company as a London based human centered design agency, operating internationally.
This company hired more than 50 additional people. They mostly worked in sales and design, although some were recruited for supervisors.
Another part of the team did not live in the UK. With the objective of surpassing the international market, the Madbird Human Resources department published the job offers.
To create an international sales team based in Dubai, they hired ten people from Africa.
For those hired, it was more than a good salary, for them this company represented a work visa in the United Kingdom, since the contracts ensured that Madbird would cover the costs of their mobilization to the United Kingdom.
The unknowns of Ali Ayad
Ali Ayad had already secured what it was like to start from scratch in the UK. On several occasions he spoke with some employees of the company about his past life, before settling in London.
However, there are several versions of his story. He told one person that he was from Lebanon, where a difficult adolescence led him to improve himself, and he told others that he was a Mormon from the United States.
He even changed his name many times " Ali Ayyad " and " Alex Ayd " are some of the ones he used.
Some of his stories were consistent, most notably his time with Nike as a creative designer, at the headquarters in Oregon, United States, where he met Madbird co-founder Dave Stanfield.
Ali's great professional career did not seem like made-up stories, in the videoconferences he showed himself with a lot of charisma and interest. This is how he managed to convince three people to resign and join the company to work alongside him.
The jobs offered by Madbird did not raise any doubts, especially Ali's story at Nike, since on his LinkedIn profile he had hundreds of positive comments from his former co-workers.
the first signs
For months, the jobs that Madbird did on a daily basis went smoothly, and they even had to hire more designers to fill in the backlog.
Long before the truth of Madbird was revealed, his work team had already begun to have problems, since their contracts were drawn up in a very peculiar way and that is why they had not been provided with payment for their work.
For the first six months, employees had agreed to work only on commission. They made this decision while the test time was over and at that time, they would begin to charge $47,300 per year, most of them, an agreement that never materialized.
Despite knowing what the terms of the contract meant, the young people accepted, since at that time a strong crisis was going through due to the pandemic.
As of February 2021, no employee had signed such a contract and neither had they received a penny of the stipulated payment. Just as recruits who had entered withdrew, others chose to stay.
While they worked and did not receive any type of economic benefit, many found it necessary to borrow money, apply for credit cards, in order to settle their pending accounts.
Madbird never received any kind of income. The new workers who had not signed a contract were calm because their managers were being paid, or so they thought.
One afternoon, everything fell apart and Madbird failed to sign a large number of contracts that would allow him to pay his employees.
Antonia Stuart and Gemma Brett always had a suspicion something wasn't right. One day, they decided to start the investigation, with the help of the image search engine, of their so-called colleagues and realized that most of them existed.
After seeing this information, the employees decided to send an email to all their co-workers, putting “Jane Smith” in the subject line.
In this email you could see the accusation against the founders of Madbird for immoral and unethical behavior, the work of other people and the fabrication of team members.
This information was completely traumatizing for the actual workers of the team. All the work done was wrapped in pure lies. For this reason, there would no longer be the payment of wages for working time.
Fake profiles and non-existent people
Everything the company claimed to do was a complete lie. They never transported products and experiences globally and locally.
Ali Ayad registered the Madbird company in the UK on September 23, 2000. That same day he met with Chris Doocey to interview him and at that time hired him as sales manager.
Six of the high-ranking employees in the company were fakes. Their identities were an amalgamation of some photos stolen from different websites. One of them was Dave Stanfield, supposed co-founder of the company, who had an excellent profile on Linkedln and was constantly mentioned by Ayad.
When employees requested to speak with Stanfield, Ali would tell them that they should email him ahead of time to request the conversation, since he kept himself very busy with Nike projects. Some of the employees even received emails from the co-founder of the company.
In an investigation carried out, facial recognition technology was used and the photo of Dave Stanfield turned out that it really was Michal Kalis, a honeycomb builder in Prague. In a conversation with the man, he assured that he had never heard of Madbird and did not know who Ali Ayad and Dave Stanfield are.
Another of the alleged workers was Nigel White, who connected to the Zoom call in January. The image of the alleged designer was really that of a model. His image was taken from Getty Images by searching for “red-haired man”. His face appears on various websites.
The other people belonging to the company, were also photos that were stolen from the Internet for the creation of false identities. In the case of the graphic designer, it was the photo of a Lebanese doctor, a brand growth manager, his image was of a Spanish actor and the marketing manager of Madbird, he was a fashion influencer from Italy.
The 42 brands that were named in Madbird as part of the client portfolio, including Guy, Nike and Tate & Toni, said they had never worked with them.
a life of lies
Ali always argued in his meetings and interviews that he worked at Nike as a " creative leader ", which when conducting investigations all this turned out to be false. The Nike company in a document showed that it had never had a worker named that way.
On Instagram he showed a perfect life. In his publications, he showed his career as an influencer and model and had more than 90,000 followers. The workers trusted their boss, it was more than anything because the profile generated security for them.
However, Instagram life was far removed from real life.
In one of his publications, a photo was taken from one of the pages of GQ magazine, where Ali Ayad models a blazer in an advertisement for the Spanish fashion brand Massimo Dutti.
In the real edition of the magazine, on the same page that he showed on his Instagram, there was an advertisement for a watch on the full page. He never modeled for said brand, nor did he pose for the magazine.
After this, the employees of the company were more devastated than they were. In addition to this disappointment, they were living through the pandemic, without receiving any type of payment and without knowing how to explain everything that was happening.
Chris Doocey, sales manager for Madbird, had $13,500 in credit card debt, which he used for his services while awaiting payment of his first salary.
Elvis John, originally from Chennai in India, was waiting to finish his six-month probation period so Ali could sponsor his visa and travel to the UK. After this, the young man assured that his dreams were automatically destroyed.
John is confused because he doesn't know if Ali will imagine everything he put them through, while he was playing at having a giant company and a large number of employees.
During this process, many of the employees waited for weeks to tell their friends and family what happened, as they were ashamed and embarrassed.
The question that everyone asked themselves and to which no one could answer was that, did Ali really understand the consequence of his actions ?
Ali Ayad's version
An investigative team confronted Ali Ayad while he was on his way to the tube in west London. After he canceled an interview, the team decided to go after him to get his statements and understand his story.
Although at first he avoided speaking, in the end he couldn't help it.
Ayad always insisted that he tried to do something good by offering job opportunities in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ali was accused in this conversation of using false identities and stealing the work of various people. He just got mad and asked how they knew he had done it.
Until now, it is presumed that behind all this there is someone who gave him instructions to do it, but without Ali offering information, it can never be confirmed.
The man assured that Madbird did have an office, but a virtual office.
Really what was Madbird
The people who kept in touch with him, by phone, video call and email, consider that there were two options for what was really happening.
The first theory is that all this was put together in the attempt to start a real company. At the beginning he could start with a lie, but later he could have obtained certain contracts that allowed the income of money.
The workers consider that, days before everything was discovered, Madbird was about to sign important contracts with different clients. Perhaps if everything had not been discovered at that time, no one would have realized the murky part of the company.
The second theory is that all of this has to do with something far beyond just money. Perhaps Ali enjoyed being a 'cool boss' while running Madbird. His interviews used to last more than an hour, while he told how he managed to change people's lives by discovering their talents and offering them different opportunities.
During work hours, I would send them house music links for them to enjoy while working.
Ali Ayad took advantage of the pandemic, since at that time it changed the way more people began to work and virtual communication was the first new rule.
This man wanted to be like his idol Elon Musk with the company Madbrid, seeing this as a shortcut to real life.