Staff pose as punters to praise the Groupola debacle

5 July 2010

Last week, we reported how Groupola dreamed up some supercharged linkbait - selling the iPhone 4 for £99 - and how the Guardian ran an advertorial a story about it. The article explained how readers could take advantage of the "deal" - they had to subscribe to Groupola's mailing list if they wanted to purchase one of "a limited number of handsets".

Groupola ramped up the PR bandwagon even further when their website failed as customers tried to buy the iPhone, claiming that "more than 5 million people attempted to log on to the site" in a half hour period - with a brief understanding of typical web traffic figures, we'd suggest such a nice, round number probably wouldn't have hurt when it was plucked from somebody's arse.

But hey, maybe we've got it all wrong. Maybe Groupola are just trying to do us all a favour by giving us fabulous deals! Perhaps all the criticism is downright unfair. After all, there are plenty of people supporting Groupola - just take a look at Groupola's Facebook group. Here's a shining endorsement of Groupola from one punter:

Groupola - Saqib Azhar praises for Groupola. He works for them. #1And here he is again:

Groupola - Saqib Azhar praises for Groupola. He works for them. #2

As you can see, this guy Saqib is very clear about the fact he doesn't work for Groupola, which is operated by Markco Media Ltd, so you know he's got a valid and entirely objective point of view. An- oh, wait a moment. Who's that on LinkedIn?

Bitterwallet - Groupola

Oh. According to his profile, Saqib does work at the company that owns Groupola after all. Perhaps he forgot. Well at least Groupola have confirmed they did sell 200 phones to lucky punters, by way of an official press release:

Bitterwallet - 200 iPhone 4s on sale for £99 form Groupola!It's not as if there was any confusion concerning the number available, or that Grouplola's own site might have somehow sold more phones than they claimed to have in stock, or tha- oh. It appears Groupola sold 202 phones at one point, and judging by the graphics, still had 800 or so left to sell:

Bitterwallet - Groupola sell 202 iPhone 4

Perhaps there was a slip of the fingers and somebody mistakenly entered 1,000 instead of 200 for the number of handsets. Maybe the computer couldn't count.

Groupola's PR company are whoring successful buyers to the media for interview, but that's not really the issue. The question is how many handsets were on offer - because Groupola's own website didn't seem to know - and why are staff members posing as punters on Facebook?

Update #1 How very odd. Within two hours of this post appearing, Saqib Azhar's profile has been removed from LinkedIn. However, eagle-eyed reader blagga spotted on Azhar's Facebook profile that he's a member of Markco Tech, a private group on Facebook for staff only:

Bitterwallet - MarkcoTech

Azhar has now deleted that detail from his profile too, and he's not the only one worrying the delete key this afternoon; the Groupola administrators have been deleting comments left by Bitterwallet readers that link to this article, and at one point blocked all new comments from being posted. Before:

Bitterwallet - Groupola delete Facebook messages #1And after:

Bitterwallet - Groupola delete Facebook messages #2

Update #2 Thanks to avid Bitterwallet reader az for pointing out that a second member of staff has been posing as a Groupola customer on their Facebook page. The comment was deleted within minutes of our reader reporting it, but thanks to Google the unedited Groupola comments are still available:

Bitterwallet - a second member of staff poses as a Groupola customer

And a quick check of LinkedIn reveals XeeShan Ch also works for Markco Tech, a branch of Markco Media :

Bitterwallet - XeeShaN Ch works at Groupola, too

TOPICS:   Social Media   Mobile


  • The L.
    Ha Ha! Well exposed Bitterwallet. Not that Saquib's naive spelling impressed this reader.
  • Paul C.
    Some good investigative work there, Paul. Someone should link this on their facebook page. Alice Beer would be proud.
  • Nobby
    Guess what he is holding in his hand, just out of shot, in the facebook photo. Anyway, the guy deserves a decent beating, then a life working in CPW.
  • tfeb
    Er to my knowledge the O2 website didnt crash either. It did a few yr ago with the firts iphone but not this time for iphone 4 as they were prepared for the numbers. I know I went on the site multiple times the day of launch.
  • Paul C.
    The other reason the O2 website didn't crash was because on the day of launch they weren't actually selling it online! Therefore, they didn't have to run server intensive pages that involved multiple forms, authorisation protocols and automated emails.
  • PaulH
    "Profile Not Found" Humm...
  • Matt
    Posted on the groupla fans page :-p
  • Rhinestone
    Aha, Groupola are such a bunch of dildos.
  • Saqib's m.
    In case you'd like the hire the literary genius that is Saqib for web design, his mobile number is publically available on his facebook page.... Shall we all give him a call on 078464103**?
  • Matt
    Lol, my posts of links to this page keep mysteriously dissappearing from the group wall... I wonder why :-p LOL. Glad to see there are plenty of others posting it up there as well :-p
  • Matt
    Bastards have removed the ability to post on the wall or add comments now ;-)
  • J
    I too posted links of this article around 25 mins ago. Unsuprisingly they deleted them and then turned off the ability to post on their wall.
  • blagga
    Not very subtle is he? His profile's wide open, so feel free to post your thoughts on his wall.
  • Emily
    he's not liked in the online world for lots of other "cutting edge" techniques he uses.
  • DrTrouserPlank
    "Well at least Groupola have confirmed they did sold 200 phones to lucky punters.........." That's some good grammar there ;)
  • LB
    What a catch! Subtlety not one of this guy's fortes then eh? Or spelling.
  • az
    The public profile has gone but you can still search for Saqib Azhar on LinkedIn. His profile comes up. You just need to signed in.
  • az
    Oh also, if you search for Markco Tech on LinkedIn: Current employees: XeeShaN Ch, Project Coordinator, who also commented on the Facebook page.
  • Paul S.
    God bless Google and its cache :)
  • PaganWolf
    I guess he would say that about the IT that he is the manager for! LOL His profile on Linkedin has now disappeared, and his wall is also now closed. Shame. I did post the link here to his comment saying he doesn't work for them. I am prepared to be banned from commenting on their page any time now!
  • adam b.
    Writing about it (twice) doesn't change the fact that you missed a once in a lifetime chance to acquire a database of email addresses of people interested in tech and deals.
  • Groupola m.
    [...] the blog bitterwallet here claims that a staff member is posing as a recipient. This is given that somone calling himself [...]
  • dacouch
    Is Saqib Azha not aware of the Unfair Business Practices Law which specifically makes it illegal for an employee or someone associated to the company to post on blogs and the like pretending to be a happy customer without making it very clear their interest in the company. See 13 and 18 on the attached guidance from the OFT regarding this, feel free to report Saqib to his local trading standards (See page 2)
  • Roger
    You know the saddest thing about this whole shoddy affair is that they (Markco Media) really believe that their users are stupid and can't spot a stooge from a mile away. You can read the comments on the groupola facebook wall and you just know who is an employee, and the 'likes' after each comment by an employee are also probably employees. Mark Pearson (owner of Markco Media), whilst not being evil, is a very poor man in terms of intellect, he used to be gordon ramseys whipping boy, so I guess that has tainted his judgement of the rest of humanity. Paul, be prepared for the phone calls and threats from the company or its representatives (if you haven't yet had them) demanding that you take this page down. I have saved a copy (just for archival reasons) and should yours vanish, I will publish mine on a very well visited UK site. An excellent find my friend, kudos to you.
  • Diane
    Well it's quite amusing really. How forgetful can someone be?
  • Roger
    Well, as he's a web project manager, I guess things that aren't html based are difficult to remember, wonder if he gets lost every night on his way home? Oddly enough on his profile (which is still available to view, it's just private) He claims to be an expert in sql injection and xss (cross-site scripting) which to the layman should read "Saqib Azhar is a hacker"
  • Issac M.
    Haha, excellent story and well deserved Pwn by BW.
  • Roger
    I've just spotted something altogether more sinister, all of the employees of Markco Media on linkedin and on facebook seem to be allying themselves with, now Groupon is the site that groupola allegedly copied when they first started out in the group-buying arena. They've (groupola) already tried to pretend they are groupon - and it looks like they may be trying to spread the shame with this iPhone debacle?
  • codify
    Excellent expose. Brings back memories of that was so 90s
  • codify
    "It's not a scam, it's not a rumour..." [cheesy thumbs up]...:
  • William
    After reading about them selling 200 phones i decided to investigate wether its possible to even buy 200 handsets, the apple store UK tell me that i can have a maximum of 2 handsets so unless they have got 100 people to buy 2 handsets each then they must be lying.
  • JImbo
    this is almost as bad as the shill ebay bidder that just got fines.. to be honest i think its the same..
  • Roger
    I agree JImbo, it may be worse, seeing as groupola now have email addresses to the value of (if their figures are to be believed) £2.5 million
  • parpparp
    He's from Luton, what do you expect?
  • Jase
    Wow, I've just googled him and all the tech blogs I've skimmed though so far (about 6) point to Bitterwallet as the first source for outing Saqib Azhar as staff posing as customer. Could it be that Bitterwallet were actually first on this?!
  • Gregory S.
    You would have thought he could come up with his own comments! -He has just copied and pasted my response from groupola -
  • greg
    luton is full of cunts. except for 1 girl i used to date there
  • Dave
    Personally, despite the obvious error made by Saqib posting this, I actually agree with him. Groupola did just have a great offer and were unable to cope with the demand. As bad as it is to say, I would certainly have been tempted to write a defence of my company as well.
  • Michael
    Not really surprising that their website failed. It seems to be hosted on with both the dns servers for pointing to the ip address of the same machine (they should be on 2 seperate machines and different network backbones if you treat the web seriously). So when their server got overloaded, the dns went down as well as the webserver - making it pretty hard for anyone to even visit, never mind buy from the webpages...
  • adam b.
    In the interests of fairness, there's not much to choose between any of these internet deal sites whether fronted by the media - moneysavingexpert - or by honest members of the public - Hot UK Deals. They are all after making a fast buck by fooling the public. They all work on the same basis and probably started off honest but then greed took over. Unfamiliar jargon like flash sales, which is what the iPhone deal was, generate huge demand because the call to action is extremely powerful. This is where you'll find the most successsful entrepreneurs, in the most profitable space because that is the only space that will survive until the space is regulated. It's why we had subprime mortages . The call to action made them the easiest thing to sell. Same goes for all these bloody deal sites funded not for philanthropic reasons by money from dubious Russian sources (Gr oupon) tax havens (HUKD). or unlimited companies that don't publish accounts (MSE).
  • Saqib A.
    Hey layof these dudes, they are graet, my freind got 200 iphone4s fron the webshite with no prooblem, I wood recomand you all sign up for subscribe hot deals emails. its wel famtastic.
  • Roger
    Quote: # Posted by Dave | July 6th, 2010 at 2:22 am Personally, despite the obvious error made by Saqib posting this, I actually agree with him. Groupola did just have a great offer and were unable to cope with the demand. As bad as it is to say, I would certainly have been tempted to write a defence of my company as well. So Dave, would you protect your company whilst denying that you worked for them?
  • adam b.
    Roger, I agree, fake feedback is illegal and should be reported, but if you think it is valid to point it out over two days for Groupola, why aren't you also reporting the mods on HUKD who post tens of thousands of copy and paste ads with affiliate links as if they are honest tips for the public to escape from the marketing message and ban anyone who votes them cold on the basis that three cold votes and you are banned? It makes it look like you are working for Tipping Canoe. If Groupola is such a untrustworthy outfit, why is a community like HUKD sharing affiliate links? Is it to win the car or holiday or whatever is on offer to incentivise the posting of affiliate links that are in the interests of either the individual poster or the owner of the site, not the public? I don't know where the affiliate money goes on HUKD, it provides absoutely no details about where the business trades from geographically so the affiliate commission may be shared with mods posting 30 plus deals a day or go to whoever owns the business which is not publicly available info. At least we can name Mark Pearson of Groupola and find an address for him. With unemployment rising and pay falling, we don't need unsustainable spending. We will end up all paying for it in taxes while the businesses that casued it - HUKD, Groupola, Groupon will be long gone.
  • Paul C.
    Adam, I think your argument falls as flat on it's backside as saying everyone goes to work to earn money. I don't think the problem here is what each company does (you cite MSE, HUKD as equal guilty parties - not necessarily true as HUKD trades off referral links rather than making you part of a massive mailing/spam database) but the issue lies in how a company wants to portray itself as being deliberately deceptive through it's dishonest testimonies and deception. This is lying and deceit that has been exposed by senior members of a company that appears to be fully endorsed by it's staff. Is that the way to conduct business?
  • Andrew R.
    Good work BW!
  • adam b.
    Paul, it is a legal requirement of trade to publish your geographical address. What is the address for the owner of HUKD?
  • Roger
    Adam, try to stay focussed on the subject, it's not difficult, groupola failed, it appears that they have lied about a) the iPhone deal and/or b) the number of iPhones available and c) the 'independent' view of its employees.
  • adam b.
    Roger, By focussing on Groupola, it makes it look like you might be affiliated with a competitor. The criticism of Groupola staff which is absolutely valid and should be raised could equally be raised about many of the deals posted on HUKD. For example, a deal from the Co-op which when asked for details the poster says 'I'm just putting these out'. So that is a poster who works for the Co-op but is posting as a member of the public. It may be a perfectly valid deal, as the limited number of iPhones on offer may have been a legitimate deal, but it is the same practice on HUKD that you are rightly highlighting for Groupola. I am just pointing out a biased.
  • Roger
    Adam, I can categorically state that I am not affiliated with any competitor of groupola, I'm focussing on groupola because this article is about groupola and their lacklustre attempts to dig themselves out of a hole that they made.
  • IfYouCopyMyNameYouAreGayIsGay
    The only winners of these 200 iPhones would have been Saqib and his 199 brothers and cousins.
  • adam b.
    Roger, I believe you, I am focussed on applying the headline to bad practice. Thank you for your work identifying the actions of staff allegedly working for Groupola.
  • -]
    I agree with adam, some of the same shady 'business practice' employed by groupola is just as prevalent on places like hukd and mse. The internet is a shambles these days - bring back the mid 90s before venture capitalists got their claws into it.
  • james d.
    I dont really see a problem with companies posting their own deals on HDUK, the only issue is when they are pretending they do not work for the company. If they have a personal gain in posting the deal they should disclose it. However I dont think a front-line employee needs to declare they work for blockbusters if they see an Xbox game going for cheap as they have nothing to gain by doing so.
  • Terri
    Well done bitterwallet !! More pics on FB showing 207 were sold too at one stage. ALL my comments were deleted and I am blocked from their page. The only place where I can voice my opinion is their review page !! There's another guy called Sam Clark who kept bullying people on Friday but all his comments reminds in the FB site. You may wish to investigate who he is. Many thanks . It's brilliant !
  • Mark p.
    Groupola should be punished for this fake deal. I even heard that they have only 8 iphones not 200 as annouced in their article.
  • Deals B.
    [...] could work well for both the retailer and the consumer – look at the whirlwind of activity Groupola generated for the £99 iPhone 4 offer (even if that particular promotion went down like a cheap hooker in Hull). A rolling delivery of [...]
  • oscar m.
    miss kathrine stokes works there as well. what a shame, kathrine
  • Mike
    Hi Paul - great article! You might want to look into this: at 9.40am, Mark Pearson (owner of Groupola) himself, posing as a buyer, left a message in the Groupola FB wall saying: "i just got one iphone! it's not a scam!". Until 9.50am, no other users claimed be able to buy the iphone, so when other users questioned the veracity of Mark Pearson's message and his identity, his profile and message was immediately deleted from the Groupola fan's page at Facebook. My posts were deleted and blocked from Groupola webpage at FB. I already made a formal complaint to ASA. Hope you can investigate this further.
  • Paul C.
    Pearson was on there?!? The mystery deepens! Can any o you geeks get a cached webpage from that time?
  • IfYouCopyMyNameYouAreGayIsGay
  • W.
    [...] It’s fair to say that there are a few unknown sites on there, but of course Groupola has been getting quite a bit of press because of its iPhone 4 shenanigans. [...]
  • Ten B.
    [...] Staff pose as punters to praise the Groupola debacle [...]
  • Can B.
    [...] to say that Groupola aren’t the biggest fans of Bitterwallet right now. Last week we exposed staff members at Markco Media, owners of Groupola, posing as customers on Facebook, to deflect criticism of Groupola’s recent £99 iPhone 4 [...]
  • Karen
    Bit late, meant to postt his ages ago but:
  • PR B.
    [...] most of their criticisms. Bitterwallet discovered staff from Markco Media, owners of Groupola, were posting on Facebook but claiming to be customers and supporting Groupola. The PR company put forward “a number of people happy to talk to the [...]
  • Mr A.
    Nothing on the internet is temporary - a little late to the party but Thank you Google Cache :)
  • Kathrine S.
    # Posted by oscar murray | July 7th, 2010 at 9:55 am miss kathrine stokes works there as well. what a shame, kathrine ***************************************************** Firstly, it's Mrs, and secondly, I certainly do not work for Groupola. I was merely a would be customer stating a non hysterical opinion.
  • Terri
    I know it has been sometime now but i have JUST received an outlook "unread receipt" from Saqib Azhar [[email protected]] re an email I sent to Groupola on the day of the iphone "advert".... what more can i say?!
  • Richie
    this company is a JOKE. Just watch this space, something BIG is happening very soon.
  • Ralph
    Agree with the above sentiments: Mark Pearson (owner of Markco Media) hires low paid jokers to maximise his profits, and, being newbies, they are farcical in how they do stuff. Complete bunch of amateurs. Mark Pearson has been outed time and time again for his dubious and illegal business practices.
  • Dave
    One of the articles said how happpy Aaron Harpin was with his Groupola Deal and said he was 20 and a student from Surrey. Aaron Harpin is actually Mark Pearsons Boyfriend. They should at least make names up if they want to con people. They are Guilty, Guilty, Guilty.
  • MyVoucherCodes, B.
    [...] signed up to Groupola, which is owned by Markco Media company – you’ll remember the controversial iPhone4 competition and Groupola’s fake reviews on Facebook. Markco also owns MyVoucherCodes; all the Groupola [...]
  • Suckib L.
    @Ralph I personally know Saqib Azhar and can vouch for the fact that he is not a joker! After graduating clown college he joined a travelling circus fronted by Mark Pearson and did a stint as the bearded lady. The outfit quickly fell into disrepute when one of the work experience girls was gang-raped by a troupe of dancing bears. Saqib and Mark went into hiding and were found by UN peacekeepers years later, hiding in an underground bunker in Bratislava. They were both tried at the European High Court, but the charges were later dropped when it was discovered that they were unable to stand trial on account of their severe learning difficulties.
  • amna
    Is saqib azhar fraud

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