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Jobfishing scam: a fake company tricked dozens of employees, but who's responsible?

In an outrageous jobfishing story, dozens worked for a fake London-based design agency called Madbird. How did it happen — and should job platforms also be held responsible for the scam that took place?

Jasper Spanjaart on February 23, 2022 Average reading time: 3 min
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Jobfishing scam: a fake company tricked dozens of employees, but who's responsible?

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the amount of remote job opportunities, with many job searches now taking place solely online. But without any visit to the company’s HQ, how can jobseekers be sure they’re not being duped? As lockdowns ensued around the world, it seemed to bring along another worrisome occurrence: a fake job epidemic. In 2020, JobsAware, a British non-profit founded to tackle the growth in job-related scams, reported a 70% rise in fake job adverts. Moreover, 74% of jobseekers admitted to applying for a job they later believe did not exist.

Meet London-based design-agency Madbird, which employed dozens of workers across the world, without actually existing.

But sometimes — it can get even worse. People get jobs at a company that is not a real company. In lieu of a global pandemic and the rise of remote work, dynamic influencer Ali Ayad tricked dozens of employees all over the world in one of the most elaborate job-related cons to date. Meet London-based design-agency Madbird, which employed dozens of workers across the world, without actually existing.

Beware of Jobfishing

The BBC’s Leo Sands, Catrin Nye, Divya Talwar and Benjamin Lister spent over a year investigating what happened. We’re familiar with catfishing, but this is jobfishing. They followed the trial of Ayad, who spent countless of hours accumulating a fake senior leadership team, hoping to dupe staff into working for him. “At least six of the most senior employees profiled by Madbird were fake. Their identities stitched together using photos stolen from random corners of the internet and made-up names”, the authors write.

Job ads were posted online for positions within its international sales team — leading to ‘at least a dozen people’ being hired from Uganda, India, South Africa, the Philippines and elsewhere were hired.

By using facial recognition technology, the BBC managed to find out that the company’s co-founder was actually a Prague-based beehive maker, while one of the company’s graphic designers was one of the first results when searching for ‘ginger man’ on Getty Images. Moreover, job ads were posted online for positions within its international sales team — leading to ‘at least a dozen people’ being hired from Uganda, India, South Africa, the Philippines and elsewhere were hired.

No one was paid a single penny’

Meetings were done through Zoom, with every employee working from home. After all, everyone was going through a pandemic. No one was paid a single penny, according to the BBC report. “They had all agreed to work on a commission-only basis for the first six months. It was only after they passed their probation period that they would be put on a salary – about £35,000 ($47,300) for most. Until then, they would only earn a percentage of every deal they negotiated. They were all young adults looking for work and living through a pandemic. Many felt they had no choice but to accept the terms in their contracts.”

Many felt they had no choice but to accept the terms in their contracts.”

Who’s responsible?

Sadly, scams like Ayad and Madbird’s aren’t the first of its kind — nor will they be the last. “Since the start of COVID we have seen a 65% increase in the volume of reports about fake jobs online”, says Keith Rosser, chair of JobsAware. “In the first 5 weeks of 2022 we have received over 50 reports of fake jobs.”

“There is hope that the Online Safety Bill will put more onus on job platforms operating online.”

Rosser says the responsibility lies with platforms where the jobs are advertised. “There needs to be better safeguards on platforms advertising jobs online”, he commented. “In the recent UK Labour Market Enforcement Strategy, Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of the Arts, recently said ‘online recruitment is poorly regulated’. There is hope that the Online Safety Bill will put more onus on job platforms operating online.”

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Jasper Spanjaart

Jasper Spanjaart

Editor-in-Chief and Writer at ToTalent.eu
Editor-in-Chief and writer for European Total Talent Acquisition platform ToTalent.eu.
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