A man posing as a Columbia employee and selling questionable nightclub tickets ran a much larger scam than was initially thought, making appearances in at least eight classes over two weeks and likely raking in hundreds of dollars before he was caught on Thursday.
The man entered classes, and after telling professors that he worked for the Division of Student Affairs, sold students what he claimed were $5 tickets that would get them access to 12 popular nightclubs. It’s unclear just how many classes he tricked, and how many students bought the tickets.
“Public Safety was alerted about the situation at 4:39 p.m. on Feb. 2 and responded immediately,” Columbia spokesperson Daniel Held said in an email. “The man was apprehended and … declared ‘Persona non grata’ on campus.”
As part of his scam, the man claimed that Student Affairs usually sold the tickets for $10, and that he was offering them at an even bigger discount. Some students questioned why no professors realized the man did not work for Columbia.
“The teachers didn’t even know that this was not an actual program,” said Charlie Stigler, SEAS ’15, who purchased a ticket. “Somebody should have realized.”
Zhaoqi Li, CC ’15, who also bought a ticket, agreed.
“I was just surprised we didn’t discover this sooner,” Li said.
Sociology professor Gil Eyal allowed the man to sell tickets in his sociology class last week. Eyal said in an email that he was “completely fooled” by the scammer.
“I just assumed he was who he was claiming to be ... Just 2 days earlier, I had another person who asked to address the class about something else (internships, I think), and this seemed to be the same thing,” Eyal said.
Though the ticket scam only came to light late last week, the man appears to have been selling the tickets for at least two weeks.
Aditya Majumdar, SEAS ’15, said that the man went to Valentino Tosatti’s Calculus IV class the week of Jan. 23 to advertise the tickets. He didn’t offer any tickets during that class but said he would come back later to sell them.
The man also entered Robert Phillips’ Demand and Supply class at the Business School on Jan. 26.
Some students wondered whether they would get their money back.
“Obviously I want my money back, even though it’s five dollars,” Li said. “They identified the guy and just banned him from campus. I feel like they should have him give us back all the money.”
Travis Simon, CC ’15, a student in Eyal’s sociology class, agreed.
“They should take the money and give it to the students, the money that he stole,” he said. “What’s the problem with getting the money back?”
Brian Lee, a SEAS graduate student who is enrolled in Phillips’ class, said the University should take legal action against the man.
“This man sold hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in tickets on campus under false pretenses,” he said in an email. “This is robbery.”
A spokesperson for the New York Police Department’s 26th Precinct said only that there was an “ongoing investigation” concerning the man and that students should contact NYPD if they want to file complaints.
Several students said that although the incidents raise safety concerns, Columbia’s accessibility to visitors is important to it atmosphere. Li noted that many tourists and prospective students explore campus throughout the year.
“I still feel like we should have open doors,” Li said. “I don’t think we should cut off campus.”