Madbird: BBC reporters expose fake design agency

At least since it aired on Netflix, the story of Anna Sorokin (aka Anna Delphi), who escaped her way into high society in Manhattan and cunningly scammed people out of their money, has been on everyone’s lips. The same applies to the Fyre Festival, which was advertised as a luxury music event, which turned out to be a disaster and its organizers were condemned. Now another thriller has appeared that looks like the next movie or series like “Inventing Anna” or “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened”. It’s an almost incredible story told by Leo Sanders, Catherine Nye, Divya Talwar, and Benjamin Lester of BBC It was revealed in a year of research. A man pretending to be the president of the company, recruiting employees and greeting them on a video call. However, the company’s portfolio is not real and some of the actual attendees are not real people – even though they have active email accounts and LinkedIn profiles. Let’s take a closer look at the background of the story!

This is what the job ad promised

Since the pandemic, it has become the norm for many workers to work from home and communicate with each other primarily via video chat or email. Ali Ayyad took advantage of it. According to the job posting, his company Madbird was “a global, London-based digital design agency that puts people first”. Madbird has hired more than 50 people. Home offices, email, and zoom calls were part of everyday life. Not all employees live in the UK. Ayyad appointed an international sales team based in Dubai (UAE). There were also at least ten employees from Uganda, India, South Africa, the Philippines, and other countries. A special temptation to them: after a trial period of six months, they should be granted a visa to Great Britain.

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The questionable biography of the founder of Madbird

According to BBC correspondents, the founder’s life included several visions. Eyad was fond of telling his staff about the life he was said to have lived before he moved to London. He introduced himself to one of them as Mormons from Utah, and told the others that he was from Lebanon, where a difficult childhood taught him many things. Even his name changed. Sometimes he would add a “Y” and suddenly he’d be called “Ayad” or sign Alex Ayd. One piece of information remained the same: he worked as a creative designer at Nike — and according to him, he met Madbirds co-founder Dave Stanfield there.

Working on commission: that was in the contract

Employees in their contract agreed to work on a commission basis only for the first six months. After the probationary period, they should be paid around £35,000. Until then, they will only receive a percentage of each negotiated deal. However, no deal was completed. As of February 2021, not a single signed client contract has been received. So Madbird employees haven’t gotten anything for months.

Staff get to know Madbird

It was 27-year-old stylist Gemma Britt from London who discovered something strange in Madbird two weeks later. To prepare for post-pandemic commuting, I googled the agency’s address. The result does not match the image advertised on the Madbird website. Instead of a workplace with many creative minds, Google Street View has only spit out a palatial block of flats in Kensington. Brett found the building to be residential only. BBC journalists have finally verified that it is not the global headquarters of a design company called Madbird. Using a reverse image search online, Brett and colleague Antonia Stewart determined that most of Madbird’s work samples were stolen from the Internet and that some employees were not present. They finally wrote an email to the entire workforce under a pseudonym and shared their findings.

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False identities: a doctor in an agency?

According to the BBC, at least six of Madbird’s top employees were fake. Identities were created using images from the Internet and the invention of names. Among them is the actual co-founder Dave Stanfield. He even had his LinkedIn profile and Ayyad referred to him constantly. Some also received emails from supposedly Stanfield. Ayyad told an employee to text Stanfield that he was too busy working on projects for Nike to answer the phone. Another fake employee was Nigel White, a graphic designer. In the end, the model’s photo was one of the first images found under the search term “ginger man” (“red-haired man”) at Getty Images. Do you want more examples? Photos of a graphic designer, brand growth manager and marketing director at Madbird featured photos of a Lebanese doctor, Spanish actor, and Italian fashion influencer.

The house of cards is collapsing

BBC journalists also reached out to the 42 brands Madbird says it has worked with, including sporting goods manufacturer Nike and hairstylist Toni & Guy. None of those who responded had anything to do with Madbeard. Also, Iyad never worked for Nike. And the universities in the United States and Canada that Ayyad attended? They didn’t even provide the certificates he supposedly got. Incidentally, Ayad responded to the staff email: “If any of this information is verified” it would be “just as shocking to him as it is to all of you.” Soon, he fell silent and stopped answering calls. Madbird has gone offline and Ayyad’s LinkedIn profile has disappeared.

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This is what Ali Ayyad says about the allegations

After numerous contact attempts, investigative journalists locate Ayad on a London street in October 2021. Reporter Catherine Nye confronts him. Ayyad emphasized that he was trying to do something good by creating new opportunities amid the coronavirus pandemic. When accused of creating false identities and theft of work, Eyad replied, “Is it me? How do you know it’s me?” Ayyad did not specify whether another person might be involved. In a subsequent email to the BBC, Ayad said “some of the points” he was accused of were correct, but that “most” of the 24 points were “ridiculous and dangerous”. BBC reporters make two assumptions about motivation: First, Iyad really tried to build a company. Second, it was about more than just money. Ali Ayyad may have enjoyed pretending to be president.

What history shows anyway: Thanks to the internet, there are sometimes scary opportunities to trick people and (almost) get away with it. W: Leo Sanders, Catherine Nye, Divya Talwar and Benjamin Lister, BBC correspondent, have done a fantastic job solving the case. hats!

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