I was left in £10k of debt after being ‘jobfished’ by conman who fooled 50 people into working for fake company

SIX months into working for an exciting new creative agency, the employees of Madbird & Co Limited received a disturbing email that left them shocked to their core.

The message from ‘Jane Smith’ claimed they were all victims of a massive con – their previous high-end clients were not real, work was stolen from other companies and team members didn’t exist.


The workers were devastated. Some had quit full-time jobs for their roles at Madbird, while others found hope during “extreme desperation” after being laid off during the first year of the pandemic in 2020.

They were all hired on a commission-only basis during their six-month trials and were promised the world, with six-figure packages and sponsorship for UK work visas among the carrots dangled in front of them.

The bizarre story unfolds in tonight's BBC Three documentary Jobfished.

Madbird founder, "influencer" Ali Ayad, insists it is “not a fake company” and the version of events told by ex-employees is “their side of the story” – but his claims are hard to substantiate. 

Ali kept promising that he would take me on ‘no matter what happened’ as he ‘really liked me’. It was the definition of emotional manipulation

Chris Doocey, 28, of Manchester, claims he was left £10,000 in the red after working for the company for four months, and feared it could “ruin” his career.

The salesman told The Sun: “When I found out the truth my heart sank. It was really gutting to know it wasn’t real. We were betrayed and duped.

“I was laid off during the pandemic and the jobs market was dire – companies were protecting themselves at that time and so I was desperate to find a new role.

“I was offered 10 per cent of the revenue for any deals I made and a £60,000 salary, which amounted to £100,000 with compensation and benefits. 

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“I calculated my debt so it would be minimised and believed I could work back what I owe while working on commission. It seemed like a really good opportunity. 

“Ali kept promising that he would take me on ‘no matter what happened’ as he ‘really liked me’. It was the definition of emotional manipulation and I was left in £10,000 of debt."

Damaging

After the truth emerged in February 2021, Chris and two other former employees took Madbird to an employment tribunal and were collectively awarded nearly £19,000.

Ayad unsuccessfully appealed the decision. According to his ex-employees, they are yet to receive a penny from him. 

For Chris, it wasn’t only financially damning; he claims it was also “potentially career-ruining” because he was selling services that weren’t real and made him seem untrustworthy.

“In sales, it’s all about building your CV and showing what you have achieved, so this is damaging too,” he said.

I wasted six months. Working on minimum wage would have got me £8,000 – instead I got nothing

“Listing a company that didn’t seem to exist looks bad on you and it could also seem like drama is following you, so you’re less hireable.”

Jordan Carter, 26, from Suffolk, gave up a full-time job and “contacted over 10,000 people” while at Madbird.

“It was tough,” he said. “I wanted to apologise to the people I contacted on LinkedIn about something that was not real and for trying to get money out of them. 

“I wasted six months. Working on minimum wage would have got me £8,000 – instead, I got nothing.”

Prison fear

Elvis John, who was born in India but lives in Dubai, was promised Madbird would support his UK visa application.

He later feared he was "at risk of being sent to prison" after it transpired that the company wasn’t real.

The sales rep says: “An opportunity like this was something I couldn’t believe, as an Indian, whose native language is not English, and working for a UK company was amazing.

If we had exchanged money in Dubai I would be behind bars and deported back to my country

“It was a very devastating experience, my dreams were shattered, and if we had exchanged money in Dubai I would be behind bars and then deported back to my country. 

“It’s very, very scary. The laws are very strict if money is exchanged and you have not delivered what you promised.”

Madbird had at least 52 employees, who worked for between several weeks and six months.

They were on the verge of closing up to 10 contracts, in talks with Comic Relief and a company that promotes the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai – a deal that would have been worth up to £30,000. 

To the outside world, the company seemed legitimate. It claimed to have worked with the likes of Facebook, Samsung and Nike, and Ayad appeared to have featured in GQ magazine.

But in the documentary, investigative journalist Catrin Nye discovers that, not only had the companies never heard of Madbird, but Ayad had photoshopped himself into GQ in place of an advert.

Ayad was described as a “handsome Lebanese” entrepreneur and appeared to be a successful social media influencer with lofty ambitions of “building the next Apple”. 


Stolen identities

The facade came toppling down after the BBC’s investigation.

It was claimed Madbird used work from someone “who died”, stole designs from other companies, and members of his team weren’t real either.

Even Ayad's own qualifications weren't listed by the institutions he claimed to have studied at.

From the top creative team, the documentary found six identities were fictional, using images from the internet – including a stock picture from Getty Images titled “ginger man”, and photos of a health and safety consultant, who “couldn’t comprehend” why her face were chosen. 

The pictures of co-founder Dave Stanfield were actually of Slovakian Michal Kalis, who built beekeeping boxes with his siblings in Prague. 

He had no idea they were used and that Madbird had crafted fake emails from him, one of which read: “Can’t wait to meet all you dog devils in person.”

Employee-turned-sleuth

The mysterious Jane Smith who brought down Madbird turned out to be two former employees, Gemma and Antonia.

Gemma became suspicious after noticing the company’s listed address was a “block of luxury flats".

She pursued her investigation doggedly, to the point where her partner advised her to "slow down", but she couldn't.

“All the things I was starting to think were going on obviously sounded so ludicrous, but it was hard to drop," she says.

It led to her and Antonia outing the company to its employees via email.

He seemed to be apologetic for getting caught, almost like being unfaithful in a relationship

When confronted during the documentary, Ayad insisted: “It’s not a fake company… This is what you do in the news, you point out something and point the finger at people.

“If I hurt somebody, of course I’m sorry but there’s another version of the story… It was an authentic company that had people working and everything that a company needs.”

According to the BBC, Ayad failed to respond when chased for his side of the story.

Chris doesn’t believe Ayad is sorry, and doubts he recognises the damage he caused to people's lives.

He said: “He seemed to be apologetic for getting caught, almost like being unfaithful in a relationship, and saying ‘Sorry it didn’t pan out'.”

The Sun has reached out to Ali Ayad for comment, but is yet to receive a response.

Jobfished airs at 9pm tonight on BBC Three and is available to listen to on BBC Radio 4.



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