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Indian-origin woman arrested for posing as Columbia student

Last updated on: September 12, 2012 13:38 IST

An Indian-origin woman has been arrested on charges of trespassing on Columbia University's campus in New York after she allegedly posed as a student for nearly nine months and attended classes and orientation events.

Birva Patel, 26, who had told the students at the university that her name was Rhea Sen, was charged with criminal trespass.

Students at the university said they had seen her on campus as early as December 2011 and she had claimed to be a junior studying engineering, university paper 'Columbia
Spectator' reported.

Patel roamed freely on campus, even going on bus tours around the city, taking photos with new acquaintances, eating meals in the university's dining areas and attending orientation events.

Student Affairs spokesperson Katherine Cutler said administrators first became aware of her presence "after several odd interactions with International Student Orientation Program participants."

Patel had told fellow students that she was registered for the Columbia Outdoor Orientation Programme but had missed the programme's departure.

She said lived in Philadelphia and was born in India. Patel did not have a university ID but was still able to get access to classes and venues across campus.

She had claimed she did not have her ID with her because she left it with a friend and whenever anyone wanted to see her ID, she would "run off".

Students, however, began to get suspicious as she gave differing accounts of where she stayed in the campus hostel. They said they were unsure of where she slept on campus.

"People saw her running around, hiding in bushes, but as far as I know nobody actually saw her in the residence halls," Columbia student Cami Quarta said.

"Eventually, she tried to make friends with our first-year students, and it just got to the point where her lies were too obvious," said Louis Lin, another student.

Other students who interacted with Patel said while she seemed to know enough details about Columbia to make it plausible that she was a student, sometimes she would go blank when asked about basic facts regarding the university.

Some students said they had felt "unsafe" around Patel, who appeared "psychotic and weird."

Quarta said Patel went with a friend to a Literature Humanities class last week, but after the preceptor arrived, she left the room and waited in the hallway for two hours.

Student Affairs notified Public Safety and instructed students to keep an eye out for Patel after realising she was not a student.

Students again came across Patel last week and alerted Public Safety, who took her into custody.

Yoshita Singh
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