List of impostors

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"Impostor" redirects here. For other uses, see Impostor (disambiguation).
Cartoon of the would-be explorer Louis de Rougemont who claimed to have had adventures in Australasia.

An impostor (also spelled imposter) is a person who pretends to be somebody else, often to try to gain financial or social advantages through social engineering, but just as often for purposes of espionage or law enforcement.

Notable impostors[edit]


  • Frank Abagnale (born 1948), who passed bad checks as a fake pilot, doctor, and lawyer
  • Gerald Barnbaum (born 1933), former pharmacist who posed as a doctor for over twenty years after stealing the identity of a licensed medical professional
  • Cassie Chadwick (1857–1907), who pretended to be Andrew Carnegie's daughter
  • Ravi Desai, a journalist who passed himself off as Robert Klinger, a fictional CEO of BMW's North American division, in a series of diary entries for Slate magazine
  • David Hampton (1964–2003), who pretended to be the son of Sidney Poitier
  • Joseph "Harry" Jelinek (1905–1986), who is alleged to have fraudulently sold the Karlstejn Castle to American industrialists. Over 500 complaints were levied against Jelinek, but each was revoked or resolved amicably.
  • Brian Kim (born 1975/1976), hedge fund manager, lived in Christodora House in Manhattan, falsified documents identifying himself as the president-secretary of its condo association, and then transferred $435,000 from the association's bank account to his own bank account.[1]
  • Victor Lustig (1890–1947), "The man who sold the Eiffel Tower. Twice."
  • Richard Allen Minsky (born 1944), who scammed female victims for sex by pretending to be jailed family members over the phone
  • Arthur Orton (1834–1898), also known as the Tichborne Claimant, who claimed to be the missing heir Sir Roger Tichborne
  • Paul Palaiologos Tagaris (ca. 1320/40 – after 1394), Orthodox monk, claimed to be a member of the Palaiologos dynasty, pretended to be the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, later succeeding in being named Latin Patriarch of Constantinople.
  • Frederick Emerson Peters (1885–1959), U.S. celebrity impersonator and writer of bad checks
  • Lobsang Rampa (1910–1981), who claimed to be a deceased Tibetan Lama possessing the body of Cyril Hoskins and wrote a number of books based on that premise
  • James Reavis (1843–1914), who claimed he owned Arizona
  • Christophe Rocancourt (born 1967), who pretended to be a member of the Rockefeller family
  • Michael Sabo (born 1930), who was known as a "Great Impostor" with over 100 professional aliases listed with the FBI
  • Leander Tomarkin (1895–1967), fake doctor who became the personal physician of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. Albert Einstein assumed the honorary presidency of one of his medical conferences in 1931.[2]
  • Wilhelm Voigt (1849–1922), who masqueraded as the "Captain of Köpenick"
  • Winson Seow (born 1986), Poses as a Trauma Surgeon in the UK army or just as a doctor. He wrote a book in Malaysia in early 2012 and purported it to be a biography.[3] However, none of the school credentials he cited could be verified so by August 2012, he was under intense scrutiny and revealed he lied.[4][5] He has been seen in Orange County California in 2013 and early 2014.

False nationality claims[edit]

Frits Holm (1881–1930), Danish adventurer and self-styled "Duke of Colachine"

False Royal Heritage Claims[edit]

Academic impostors[edit]

  • Dr. Charlotte Bach (1920–1981), fringe evolutionary theorist who was not a doctor
  • Marvin Hewitt (born 1922), who became a university professor without any credentials
  • James Hogue (born 1959), who most famously entered Princeton University by posing as a self-taught orphan
  • Marilee Jones (born 1951), Dean of Admissions at MIT and best-selling author who claimed advanced degrees in science fields. After ten years in the post, she was revealed to have only a high school diploma.
  • George O'Leary (born 1946), who, in 2001, was hired and fired within 5 days as the head football coach of the University of Notre Dame, when it was discovered that he did not have a master's degree from "NYU-Stony Brook University" (a non-existent institution), as stated on his résumé.
  • Scott Thompson (born 1957), who, in 2012, was hired as the CEO of Yahoo!, on the basis of holding a Bachelor's degree in accounting and computer science. It was discovered four months later that he did not hold a computer science degree; he thus left the company.

False minority national identity claims[edit]

Multiple impostors[edit]

Women who lived as men[edit]

Many women in history have presented themselves as men in order to advance in typically male-dominated fields. It is unknown whether they identified as transgender in the current sense.

  • Joan of Arc (1412–1431), French heroine and Catholic saint who disguised herself as a man to fight the English
  • James Barry (c. 1790–1865), born Margaret Ann Bulkley who successfully lived as a male military surgeon in the British Army
  • Frances Clalin (c. 1830–after 1863), disguised herself as a man named Jack Williams in order to fight for Union forces during the American Civil War
  • Nadezhda Durova (1783–1866), a woman who, while disguised as a man, became a decorated soldier in the Russian cavalry, during the Napoleonic Wars
  • Catalina de Erauso (1592–1650), Basque nun-soldier in the Spanish colonial army
  • Pope Joan (fl. 1099), a woman who allegedly ruled as pope, although most modern scholars doubt the historicity of this account
  • Dorothy Lawrence (1896–1964), English reporter, who secretly posed as a man to become a soldier during World War I
  • Hua Mulan, legendary figure from ancient China who disguised herself as a man to join the army, when her father was too old for it
  • Deborah Sampson (1760–1827), a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War
  • Mary Anne Talbot (1778–1808), Englishwoman who wore male dress and became a sailor during the Napoleonic Wars
  • Billy Tipton (1914–1989), born Dorothy Lucille Tipton, jazz musician
  • Loreta Janeta Velazquez (1842–c. 1902), Cuban-born woman who claimed that she masqueraded as a male Confederate soldier during the American Civil War

Military impostors[edit]


  • Bampfylde Moore Carew (1693–1759), a Devonshire man whose popular Life and Adventures included picaresque episodes of vagabond life, including his claim to have been elected King of the Beggars
  • Alan Conway (1934–1998), who impersonated Stanley Kubrick during the early 1990s
  • Chevalier d'Eon (1728–1810), French diplomat, spy and soldier, whose first 49 years were spent as a man, and whose last 33 years were spent as a woman
  • Anoushirvan D. Fahkran (born c. 1970), an Iranian immigrant, who in 1997 legally changed his name to Jonathan Taylor Spielberg and posed as the 16-year-old nephew of legendary Hollywood director Steven Spielberg to enroll in high school[6]
  • Robert Hendy-Freegard (born 1971), English barman, car salesman and conman who masqueraded as a MI5 agent
  • John Howard Griffin (1920–1980), who, in 1959, darkened his skin and traveled in the American South as a black man, to write Black Like Me
  • Alicia Esteve Head (born 1973), Spanish woman who claimed to be a survivor of the September 11 attacks, under the name Tania Head
  • Paul Jordan-Smith (1885–1971), father of the hoax art movement called Disumbrationism
  • Ashida Kim, believed by many to be Caucasian author and self-proclaimed ninja Radford Davis (alternate pen name Christopher Hunter), who wrote numerous books on ninjutsu during the '70s and '80s, noted for refusing to provide details about his teachers, or the lineage of the martial art in which he claims expertise[7]
  • Enric Marco (born 1921), Spaniard who claimed to have been a prisoner in the Nazi German concentration camps Mauthausen and Flossenburg in World War II
  • Steven Jay Russell (born 1957), who has impersonated judges and a doctor, among others, and is known for escaping from prison multiple times
  • Treva Throneberry (born 1969), convicted American con artist who spent most of her twenties pretending to be a teenager
  • Arnaud du Tilh (fl. 1556), who took the place of Martin Guerre in the mid-16th century and lived with Guerre's wife and son for three years before being discovered when Guerre returned
  • Binjamin Wilkomirski (born Bruno Grosjean in 1941), who adopted a constructed identity as a Holocaust survivor and published author

In fiction[edit]



  • The Associate, 1996 film starring Whoopi Goldberg who disguises herself as a white man to get a job on Wall Street
  • Big Momma's House, 2000 American crime comedy film where Martin Lawrence disguises himself as a rotund grandmother
  • Catch Me If You Can, 2002 American biographical crime drama film based on the life of Frank Abagnale, who successfully conned millions of dollars worth of checks as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and legal prosecutor
  • Changeling, 2008 American drama film, based partly on real-life events – the Gordon Stewart Northcott case in the 1928 "Wineville Chicken Coop Murders"
  • Coming to America, 1988 American romantic comedy film starring Eddie Murphy as a rich African prince who pretends to be poor in the hope of finding a wife
  • Connie and Carla, 2004 American comedy film where two women pose as drag queens
  • Dave, 1993 comedy-drama film starring Kevin Kline who has a side job impersonating the President
  • Face/Off, 1997 American science fiction action thriller film starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, who assume the physical appearances of each other
  • Houseguest, 1995 comedy film starring Sinbad who pretends to be a rich dentist
  • I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, 2007 American comedy film where two straight firefighters pose as homosexual lovers
  • Impostor, 2001 American science fiction film based upon the 1953 short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick
  • The Imposter, 2012 British-American documentary film about the 1997 case of the French confidence trickster Frédéric Bourdin
  • Just One of the Guys, 1985 comedy film about a female high school reporter who poses as a teen-aged boy
  • Juwanna Mann, 2002 American sports romantic comedy film about a basketball star becoming a female impersonator joining women's basketball, after being banned from men's basketball
  • A Knight's Tale, 2001 medieval adventure film featuring a peasant who poses as nobility to compete in a jousting tournament
  • Little Man, 2006 American comedy film about a diminutive, but adult, criminal pretending to be an infant
  • Mrs. Doubtfire, 1993 American comedy film starring Robin Williams who disguises himself as a pleasant, elderly British nanny
  • The New Guy, 2002 American teen comedy film about a high school geek who poses as a dangerous criminal to be more popular
  • Overboard, 1987 American romantic comedy film about a poor carpenter who tricks a rich heiress into believing that he is her husband
  • The Ringer, 2005 comedy film starring Johnny Knoxville who pretends to be mentally challenged to enter the Special Olympics
  • The Secret of My Success, 1987 American comedy film starring Michael J. Fox as a kid from the mail room pretends to be an executive
  • She's the Man, 2006 American romantic comedy film where a female soccer star pretends to be a boy to play on their team
  • Sister Act, 1992 American comedy film starring Whoopi Goldberg as a Reno lounge singer who pretends to be a nun to avoid the mob
  • Some Like It Hot, 1959 American comedy film starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, where two men disguise themselves as female band members after accidentally witnessing the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre
  • Soul Man, 1986 comedy film about a man who undergoes racial transformation with pills to qualify for a black-only scholarship at Harvard Law School
  • Tootsie, 1982 American comedy-drama film starring Dustin Hoffman as a struggling actor who pretends to be a woman in order to get a job
  • Tropic Thunder, 2008 American action comedy film costarring Robert Downey, Jr., who plays an Australian actor who had controversial "pigmentation alteration" surgery to darken his skin for his portrayal of the black character, Sergeant Lincoln Osiris
  • True Identity, 1991 American comedy film starring Lenny Henry as a black man who disguises himself as a white man to escape the mob
  • Two Much, 1995 romantic screwball comedy film starring Antonio Banderas as a man who wants to date two different women, so he pretends to have a twin brother
  • Victor Victoria, 1982 film starring Julie Andrews as a woman who poses as a female impersonator
  • Wedding Crashers, 2005 American romantic comedy film about two party crashers who trick a wedding party into believing they were invited
  • While You Were Sleeping, 1995 romantic comedy film starring Sandra Bullock about a subway fare collector who fools a family into believing she was engaged to their comatose son
  • White Chicks, 2004 American buddy cop comedy film about two African American FBI agents who disguise themselves as two Caucasian women
  • Working Girl, 1988 romantic comedy-drama film starring Melanie Griffith who plays a secretary who takes on the role of her boss, a player on Wall Street
  • Zelig, 1983 American mockumentary film by Woody Allen who plays Leonard Zelig, a nondescript enigma who, out of his desire to fit in and be liked, takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CNBC pundit and hedge-fund operator at heart of $4 million Ponzi scheme". NY Daily News. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  2. ^ von Lüpke, Marc (1 November 2013). "Doktor Dreist" [Doctor Brazen]. Der Spiegel (in German). 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Barrett, William P. (11 October 2004). "The Fakes". Forbes. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  7. ^ Horowitz, Eli (May 2003). "Interview with Ashida Kim". The Believer. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 

External links[edit]