Madbird: the least glamorous scam of our times
Don’t Panic co-founder Joe Wade looks back at the strangest news in adland this week... a fake design agency.
Netflix’s Inventing Anna, which features a woman with a dodgy accent pretending to be a German heiress to swindle Manhattan’s elite, has been a huge hit. This tale of decadence and deception is by no means a new phenomenon, with countless similar stories being told over the years, from Catch Me If You Can to The Talented Mr Ripley.
The BBC spent a year investigating Madbird for its documentary, Jobfished
They generally feature a fraudster faking their way into a life of wealth and luxury, be that Leonardo Dicaprio pretending he’s a pilot or Jude Law pretending he can act. So, what exactly was Ali Ayad doing when he fooled over 50 people into thinking they were working for… a design agency?
In this less than glamorous true story, Ayad, an influencer with over 90,000 Instagram followers, created a fake agency called Madbird as part of an incredibly elaborate network of lies, ultimately just to hoodwink a bunch of people into doing a bit of design work.
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During the height of the pandemic, with many desperate for employment, he painstakingly produced a host of fake employees with fake LinkedIn profiles, leading inspiring video calls and sending emails from numerous made-up accounts.
The profile picture he used for his fake managing director was actually that of a Czech beehive maker, while for one of his graphic designers he used a stock image that comes up when you Google ’ginger man’. After almost six months of this charade, a couple of employees smelled a rat (or at least a convincing stock image of one), taking him down with a single mass email.
This all throws up a lot of questions, but top of the pile is… why?
Not just why did he scam a load of people into racking up huge credit card bills for no real reason, but why an agency?
Perhaps he finally got round to bingeing Mad Men and thought it was a documentary? Unfortunately for Ali Ayad, however, the boozy lunches, bulging expense accounts and lavish trips to far-flung locations have been replaced by endless Zoom calls, depressing WeWorks and sad Pret baguettes.
Besides, with the amount of work he put into his intricate ruse, he might as well have just set up an actual agency. That way he could have found a real-life ’ginger man’ and a bunch of other talented people to create genuine work that makes a genuine difference.
Because when it really comes to it, faking it will only take you so far. Unless, for some reason, you’re Jude Law.