Student scam jobs listed on ColumbiaWorks

By Lisa Schulz

After expecting to apply for a part-time accounting position at a job fair he was steered to by ColumbiaWorks, Columbia’s student and alumni employment website, Todd Merrill hesitated before he accepted the actual offer: a full-time, governmental campaign office position promising an $80,000-a-year salary—or at least until he would scribble his Social Security number onto a W-4 tax form.

This isn’t the first illusory job Merrill—a senior arts, entertainment and media management major—encountered through Columbia’s resources. It’s also not the first student complaint that ColumbiaWorks, at, has had regarding false job listings.

“This is just ridiculous,” Merrill said. “It’s the fact that Columbia doesn’t do anything about it. They barely take notice of it. It’s just a waste of tuition money because we’re paying for [the website].”

According to Evonne Mathews, the college’s web tools coordinator of career initiatives, the website is an “open system,” which allows on- and off-campus employers to post job opportunities. They appear depending on the specific preferences of the user’s search.

Each employer can apply for an account, whereupon the website’s staff of two—a data entry assistant and Mathews, an 8-year veteran of ColumbiaWorks—

can either approve or deny requests and job listings. Seemingly false or scam job posts are immediately investigated and appear as deactivated to users rather than completely removed from the database to keep a history of problematic employers, Mathews said. Most legit-imate jobs are only displayed on the site for two months.

However, the site partners with four search engines that display nationwide employment postings. More than 300,000 job offers are advertised through the website alone.

ColumbiaWorks has a disclaimer written by the college’s legal counsel, Mathews said, directed at employer and employee users of the website. The disclaimer notes that students navigate the site at their own risk because the college does not verify, investigate or recommend any employer, nor does the college ensure safety and reliability for any postings on the site.

“There’s only so much investigation we can do on our part,” Mathews said. “So it’s up to the individual to use a level of discernment, to take initiative and use their investigative resources to figure out if that opportunity is suitable for them or not.”

Merrill encountered his first problematic job listing in August 2011. He thought he had finally obtained his desired part-time position until the employer claimed it never happened.

Merrill says that Philip Tadros, proprietor of a cafe at the Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., told him that once he changed his early class schedule to accommodate hours of the building’s cafe barista, he’d be hired on the spot. When Merrill sent a follow-up email, Tadros stated he had no recollection of hiring Merrill or requesting a schedule change. Instead, he requested a photograph because he had interviewed close to 100 applicants, he said in the email. After Merrill sent a text description, Tadros confirmed the interview happened, but instead of offering details on a future job orientation, he wished Merrill “good luck.”

This wasn’t the first unpleasant encounter with Tadros, Mathews said. There were reports from students because of his “condescending” personality. He was deactivated from the ColumbiaWorks system a year ago, according to Mathews, who said it was unclear to her how Merrill found Tadros because he is no longer listed on ColumbiaWorks, she said.

“If we find a troublesome employer, we reserve the right to not let them use the system,” Mathews said.

But Tadros said that if applicants are told that they’re a perfect match if their schedules correlate, but is later told that they aren’t compatible, it’s not a personal issue.

Merrill’s second phony interview for a nonprofit organization, the Putting America Back to Work Movement, at the Lincoln Park-based job fair was listed on the

ColumbiaWorks website.

Also posted was the link to the employer’s blatantly unprofessional website with multiple spelling and grammatical errors,, Merrill said. The site’s mission statement reads, “This is an organization of change to make a difference in communities to bring change in America.”

“Anyone who knows anything about running a website knows you don’t type in first person,” Merrill said. “The financials that he did have posted on [the site] are clearly made up. Or if they’re correct, the company’s failing dramatically.”

Employer Nicolas Bryan Hobson sent Merrill an email requesting a completed tax form and signature for “employment verification.” The email stated Merrill had been hired as a director of the bylaws and rules committee and “if you want, like you can start choosing someone to be your assistant director of the bylaws and rules committee,” Hobson wrote. He provided an alternative method to hiring, stating Merrill could interview applicants at another job fair on Oct. 8 at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive. “It will be a table set up for you,” Hobson wrote in the email.

The organization claims to be located in Mumbai, though Merrill said Hobson frequently exchanges emails about potential downtown Chicago office spaces, with six other employees, including an interdisciplinary Columbia alumnus, Arturo Carrillo.

“Honestly, I think he might be looking for people to do identity theft,” Carrillo told The Chronicle. “That’s a problem because that’s taking advantage of

innocent students.”

Carrillo said he filed fraud reports about Hobson after he filled out the W-4 form.

“I’m crossing my fingers,” he said. “I can’t believe [that] someone would actually do this.”