Look What the Catfish Dragged In

When I consider my options at a seafood restaurant, I go for halibut or sea bass. Both are offered wild-caught (a healthier approach than farmed). Both have a distinctive flavor and pair well with a variety of sauces. But once in a great while I come across catfish on the menu.  I confess to never having tried it. The jury’s still out on whether catfish is a good choice vs. utterly lacking in flavor. Probably depends on the prep. All I know is, a catfish is a bottom feeder. If it’s anything like con man Ali Ayad, it really is lacking in flavor.


In the world of tech, catfishing is a disturbing practice.  The “fisher” creates a false online persona (photo, bio, accounts), then trolls social media looking to establish relationships, usually for financial gain.  The victim is lulled into a false sense of security through casual texting and email conversations, until he or she unwittingly hands over the money or even worse, gives access to personal information.  Favorite catfishing targets: senior citizens and those looking for love.

Manti Te’o, aka “prey”

A well-known example of catfishing involved former American football player Manti Te’o (a graduate of my alma mater, I’m embarrassed to say).  Te’o developed an online relationship with a woman at Stanford University just as his name was starting to make headlines as a Heisman Trophy candidate.  Te’o pulled heartstrings when he revealed to the sports media his girlfriend had leukemia.  It took a full-blown investigation to determine not only the false persona of Teo’s girlfriend but also the con behind it: a childhood friend of Te’o’s who was in love with him.  The resulting embarrassment undoubtedly affected his future NFL prospects.

Ali Ayad is our latest example of catfishing and his story is a whole lot more disturbing than Manti Te’o’s.  Ayad started digital design company Madbird in 2020, from nothing but clicks on the keyboard.  He invented a corporate website and claimed a random London street address as his office.  He created a fake co-founder, stole photos of real people to build the rest of his executive staff, and developed a resume of high-profile clients he never worked for (complete with testimonials).  Then he went in search of real people around the globe to put in the long hours to get Madbird off the ground.

It almost worked.  Ayad hired fifty employees in a matter of months, convincing each to walk away from real jobs to work from home on commission, with the promise of a fixed salary after six months.  One employee pitched the company to over 10,000 contacts, becoming Madbird’s “Employee of the Month”.  Others in other countries uprooted their lives, anticipating Madbird as their ticket to eventual relocation to the UK.  No client deals were ever closed and no commissions were ever paid.

The catfish himself

Then Ayad made a misstep.  He hired Gemma Brett, a designer from West London.  Two weeks into her employment Brett innocently mapped the commute to Madbird’s offices.  The street address turned out to be a building of residential flats.  Suspicious, Brett engaged another employee to dig further into the company, and Madbird’s inauthenticity started to reveal itself.  The BBC got wind of the story and conducted a thorough investigation, which you can read about here.  The extent of Ayad’s charade will have you shaking your head.  If nothing else, watch the on-street interview towards the end of the article where reporter Catrin Nye catches Ayad off-guard.  Even in this confrontation Ayad believes he’s done nothing wrong.

Ayad reminds me of Rumplestiltskin spinning gold from straw; he’s just a lot more attractive and charismatic than the old buzzard from the Grimm fairy tale.  Ayad’s also tech-savvy enough to convince perfectly intelligent people to go for his gold, which leaves me with two questions.  Why did Ayad go to such lengths to start a company whose foundation was destined to crumble?  And what are the consequences of his actions?

Nature’s catfish are typically harmless but there’s also a particularly nasty one, nicknamed the striped eel for its markings and shape.  This catfish has hidden poisonous stingers in its fins.  Handle with care; in rare cases, people have died from its venom.  Maybe our man Ali Ayad is not just catfishing; he’s a bona fide striped eel.  A bottom-feeder, still lurking, ready to poison his next victim.  Watch out.

Some content sourced from the UK Insight article, “Jobfished: the con that tricked dozens into working for a fake design agency”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.


Lego Grand Piano – Update #6

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

I worked outside of the box this week – literally. Bag #6 – of 21 bags of pieces – assembled into a portion of the piano I can’t attach to the section I’ve built so far.  Its width suggests it’s part of the front of the instrument (just behind the keyboard) and it has a few moving parts, but darned if I can figure out how it’s going to connect.

Despite the furious background rush of a Prokofiev piano concerto, I completed this section with calm and confidence in just forty minutes.  Either I’m getting better at this or the bags of pieces are shrinking.

Detail of the mechanics

Running Build Time: 5.6 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major. Leftover pieces: Zero (again!)

Conductor’s Note: The Prokofiev Concerto and Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto No. 5 (accompanying the Bag #2 assembly) were both included in the soundtrack of “The Competition”, a 1980 film starring a young Richard Dreyfuss and even younger Amy Irving.  If you’re a fan of classical piano, it’s a must-see.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to Life In A Word.

23 thoughts on “Look What the Catfish Dragged In”

  1. I do like catfish, love halibut (if I can afford it) and wild Alaskan sockeye. A close friend, a widower, was catfished and he had great difficulty believing it. I nearly ruined the friendship by insisting that he look at reality. However, he’s now happy with a REAL girlfriend and is grateful to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Call me old-school, Margaret, but I wouldn’t get very far into an online relationship before picking up the phone and then meeting in person. If the person lived far away, I wouldn’t be patient enough to wait for the day I could afford to visit face-to-face. I’m glad I’m in a generation where phone calls and meet-ups are the norms (not texting and social media). And yes, halibut is expensive! We have good taste, don’t we? 🙂


      1. Exactly right, Dave. That’s what I told Jim. I met my boyfriend of 3 1/2 years (John) on Match; he lived close (20 minutes away) and was similar to me in outlook and politics. Very important these days. We almost immediately made a date to meet face to face. We do have great taste in fish! My favorite dish at my favorite restaurant (Dukes on the Tacoma, WA waterfront) is macadamia encrusted halibut in beurre blanc, It runs about $36. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The piano is looking good.

    I’m amazed that this catfisher got that far. As a high tech guy, I always do a detailed investigation of anyone offering me work – even before I accept the interview. Of course, now that I’m retired, I refer all those asking me if I’m interested in working to their local mental health professionals …

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Re: your last statement (which was LOL) I’d say you and retirement are getting along just fine. Totally agree about the catfisher, Andrew. Fifty (seemingly intelligent) people agree to work for his fake company without guaranteed pay? The guy must have a ton of charisma to go along with his Hollywood looks.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, the piano looks great, like it just needs the top. I had not heard the story about the catfishes, I’m not surprised that the thinks he did nothing done and is probably planning his NEXT new catfish venture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Considering I have 15 bags of Lego pieces yet to break into, I’d say I’m far from completing the piano but I’m enjoying the ride so far. I’m a little nervous about the mechanics, which have been more complicated than just snapping rectangle blocks together. I won’t know if the piano “plays” until I get to the very end…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Halibut is my favorite, but it’s expensive and hard to source as a local seafood restaurant which had been in business for fifty years, recently closed as they couldn’t find anyone to take it over, (it was a family business) and said there was no money in it, even though the prices were super expensive. I never seen catfish on a menu this far north. It always amazes me that people fall for those schemes in this day and age…..are they lacking in common sense?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Catfishing is a sad commentary on today’s social-media-driven world, Joni. I’m so glad I’m not caught up in all that (translation: I’m old-er). I much prefer a phone call or a face-to-face versus text or email. But my kids’ generation is so comfortable hiding behind their screens, they and their peers are much more vulnerable to catfishing. Example: my daughter is considering working for a company with no physical office. Their website doesn’t reveal much of anything about their business, and the few people who work for them are young. Her decision will have to be based solely on Zoom call interviews. Sound familiar? The subject of my post was a total coincidence. Needless to say, I’ll make sure she proceeds with caution…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow that is interesting….I had no idea, but then that fits with the pandemic work from home trend. Will companies need to rent office space anymore? It’s a much different world the younger generation are dealing with, less trustworthy and honest I think. We took a lot of things for granted…..

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I know of catfishing, but don’t know anyone who’s been caught. Or maybe I do and they won’t admit it. I think of The Music Man when I think of this concept. Deception put to music and made charming! In real life it’s less so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Seventy-six trombones…” – that’s about all I know from “The Music Man”. I never saw it on stage or on the big screen but I’m thinking I have reason to watch it now. Never thought I’d see the musical in the same paragraph as “catfishing”!


  6. Dave,
    These catfish stories are crazy, and the truth is there are so many more of them. Some people are embarrassed to come forward. In my 10 years of online dating I have met many, but reported them immediately.
    Great job on the piano!!
    A blessed weekend to you! ♥♥

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank goodness you’re savvy enough to recognize a “fisher” when you come across one! The closest encounter for me is the occasional local news story where seniors are targeted – over the phone – to give up financial information to a person who claims to be from the government or a reputable business. Not as sophisticated as the “catfishing” I wrote about here, but no less evil.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. We can’t afford to trust ANYONE these days, can we. Actually, con men have been around a long time. Jacob conned his brother out of the birthright, and later he cheated his father-in-law, Laban. Of course, the FIL was just as bad as Jacob (Genesis 27-31)! P.S. So far so good on that piano!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never considered that perspective, Nancy, but your examples from the early Bible are no less potent. Different tools, same result. The world we lived in then, the world we live in now. Wow.


  8. Catfish on a plate with hush puppies is grand; catfishing ain’t so grand. I’ve never known anyone who succumbed to that scheme, but how sad that people are duped like that. Sadder they lose their money and often go into a deep depression of having not “caught on” and don’t want to admit what happened to friends or family. I have a friend who went to an online dating service (Matchdotcom) at 60 years old. She met a wonderful man and they’ve been married about four years now – I’m sure not all online relationships have a fairy tale ending though. You are making great process on the piano Dave!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My daughter met her husband-to-be on a dating website two years ago but oftentimes I think they’re the exception and not the rule. She went through a lot of “no-matches” before meeting him; almost gave up the whole online approach before he came along. Add catfishing to the equation and you have to wonder what percentage of subscribers end up in long-term relationships. A low number, no doubt.


    1. I’ve seen these titles as we’ve scrolled through our streaming options lately, Lyssy, and the coincidence with my post is telling. Both shows are new, so it’s apparent catfishing is a trending topic. I watched both trailers this morning and now I’m “hooked” (I know, BAD choice of word). Thanks for the recommendations!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Catfish on a menu has never tempted me, but then rare is the seafood that has.

    As for the fraud version, I must confess a secret admiration for those who think of an audacious plan and make it work. Although it never seems to work completely or I would never have heard of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. We’ve been streaming several shows, J.P. (The Morning Show, Big Little Lies, Revenge), where we turn to each other and go, “I’ll bet this really happens”. At first the plots seem so twisted and the characters so unbelievable but the more we watch the more plausible they seem. Note “Lyssy in the City’s” couple of true-story recommendations above if you want the satisfaction of “caught catfisher” stories. I plan to watch both.


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