List of impostors
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An impostor (also spelled imposter) is a person who pretends to be somebody else, often through means of disguise, often to try to gain financial or social advantages through social engineering, but also often for purposes of espionage or law enforcement.
- 1 Notable impostors
- 2 In fiction
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
- 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 Over 500 complaints were levied against Jelinek, but each was revoked or resolved amicably.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.
- 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), master forger who used his real name but created a complex, fictitious history that pointed to him as the rightful owner of much of 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.
- Wilhelm Voigt (1849–1922), who masqueraded as the "Captain of Köpenick"
False nationality claims
- Korla Pandit (1921–1998), African-American pianist/organist who pretended to be from India
- George Psalmanazar (1679–1763), who claimed to be from Formosa
False Royal Heritage Claims
- Maddess Aiort claimed to have been Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia
- Granny Alina claimed to have been Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia
- Michelle Anches claimed to have been Grand Duchess Tatiana of Russia
- Anna Anderson (1896–1984), who may have really believed she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
- Mary Baynton (fl. c.1533), pretended to be Henry VIII's daughter, Mary at a time many considered that her father should be deposed in her favour
- Bardiya (d. 522 BC), ancient ruler of Persia, widely regarded as an impostor but may have been genuine
- Bhawal case, concerning a "resurrected" Indian prince who may have been genuinely who he was claimed to be
- Natalya Bilikhodze appeared in the year 1995 and went to Russia in the year 2000 where she tried to claim the "Romanov fortune".
- Marga Boodts claimed to have been Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia
- Helga de la Brache (1817–1885), claimed to have been the secret legitimate daughter of Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden and Fredrica of Baden.
- Alexis Brimeyer (1946–1995), Belgian who claimed connection to various European royal houses
- Mary Carleton (1642–1673), who was, amongst other things, a false princess and bigamist
- Count Dante (1939–1975) is the real name of John Keehan. In his campaign to promote his system of martial arts, he also claimed victories in various secret deathmatches in Asia, and mercenary activity in Cuba, none of which carried documented proof.
- Suzanna Catharina de Graaff was a Dutch woman who claimed to be the fifth daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra, born in 1903 when Alexandra was reported to have had a "hysterical pregnancy". There are no official or private records of Alexandra giving birth to any child at this time.
- Pseudo-Constantine Diogenes, pretended to be a son of Byzantine emperor Romanos IV Diogenes
- False Dmitriy I (c. 1581 – 1606), False Dmitriy II (died 1610), and False Dmitriy III (died 1612), who all impersonated the son of Ivan the Terrible
- Harry Domela (1905 – after 1978), who pretended to be an heir to the German throne
- Anna Ekelöf (fl. 1765), claimed to have been Crown Prince Gustav of Sweden.
- Vasily Filatov of Astrakhan, Russia claimed to be Tsarevich Alexei of Russia shortly before his death in the year 1988.
- Michael Goleniewski was a CIA agent who in the year 1959 claimed to be Tsarevich Alexei of Russia
- An author, Michael Gray, (an alias adopted by a Northern Irish teacher) claimed in his book Blood Relative that the Tsarevich escaped with the Dowager Empress aboard the warship HMS Marlborough in 1919 and later assumed the name Nikolai Chebotarev. In the book, Gray claims he is the son of the Tsarevich and Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, and they had secretly married in the late 1940s.
- Anna Gyllander (fl. 1659), claimed to have been queen Christina of Sweden.
- Anatoly Ionov claims to be the son of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia
- Eugene Nikolaevich Ivanoff from Poland claimed to be Tsarevich Alexei of Russia in the year 1927.
- Tile Kolup (d. 1285), also known as Dietrich Holzschuh, was an impostor who in 1284 began to pretend to be the Emperor Frederick II
- Eleanora Kruger (1901–1954) claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia
- Eugenio Lascorz (1886–1962), who claimed connection to the royal house of the Byzantine Empire
- Terence Francis MacCarthy (born 1957), styled himself MacCarthy Mór and "Prince of Desmond"
- Šćepan Mali (d. 1773), who claimed to be Peter III of Russia, and managed to rule Montenegro
- False Margaret (c. 1260–1301), who impersonated the Maid of Norway
- Pierre Plantard (1920–2000), the mastermind behind the Priory of Sion hoax who claimed to be Merovingian, a pretender to the throne of France
- Yemelyan Pugachev (c. 1742–1775), who claimed to be Peter III of Russia
- Raiktor (fl. 1081), an Eastern Orthodox monk who assumed the identity of Byzantine Emperor Michael VII
- Frederick Rolfe (1860–1913), who is better known as Baron Corvo
- Alexander Savin claimed to be Tsarevich Alexei of Russia and was arrested by the OGPU (Russian secret police) in the year 1928.
- Lambert Simnel (c. 1477 – c. 1525), pretender to the throne of England
- Eugenia Smith (1899–1997), another woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia
- Heino Tammet claimed to be Tsarevich Alexei of Russia. He died in the year 1977 in Vancouver, Canada.
- Larissa Tudor appeared strikingly similar to Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia but never actually claimed to be the former grand duchess. Many people who knew Larissa strongly suspected that she was the former grand duchess of Russia.
- Nadezhda Vasilyeva, appeared in the 1920s in Russia and claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia. She died in a psychiatric ward in the year 1971 in Kazan, Russia.
- Perkin Warbeck (c. 1474 – 1499), pretender to the throne of England
- George Zhudin (??? – 1930), claimed to be Tsarevich Alexei of Russia. He lived with the other Romanov impostor/ pretender Eleanora Kruger.
- Dr. Charlotte Bach (1920–1981), fringe evolutionary theorist who was not a doctor
- Marvin Hewitt (b. 1922), who became a university professor without any credentials
- James Hogue (b. 1959), who most famously entered Princeton University by posing as a self-taught orphan
- Kent Hovind (b. 1953) who claims a doctorate but holds qualifications only from unaccredited organizations.
- Marilee Jones (b. 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 (b. 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
- Asa Earl Carter (1925–1979), who under the alias of supposedly Cherokee writer Forrest Carter, authored several books, including The Education of Little Tree
- Carlos Castaneda (1925–1998), Peruvian-American author and self-styled anthropologist, who claimed to be a shaman
- Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance (1890–1932), an African American who claimed to be the son of a Blackfoot chief
- Iron Eyes Cody (1904–1999), Italian American actor (the "crying Indian chief" in the "Keep America Beautiful" public service announcements in the early 1970s), who claimed to be of Cherokee-Cree ancestry
- Rachel Dolezal (born 1977), American civil rights activist and former Africana studies instructor who was born to white parents yet claimed black heritage and also to have once lived "in a tipi", as if of Native heritage
- Grey Owl (1888–1938), born Archibald Belaney, an Englishman who took on the identity of an Ojibwa
- Jamake Highwater (1931–2001), writer and journalist, born Jackie Marks into a European Jewish family; later claimed he was a Cherokee American Indian
- Two Moon Meridas (c. 1888–1933), seller of herbal medicine who claimed that he was of Sioux birth
- Red Thunder Cloud (1919–1996), an African American who claimed to be the last speaker of the Catawba language.
- Mati Waiya (aka Frank Rocha) claims to be a Chumash Ceremonial Leader of the Southern Turtle Clan of the Santa Clara River, however, he is of mexican decent and the Chumash had no clan system.
- Frédéric Bourdin (b. 1974), "the French Chameleon"
- Barry Bremen (1947–2011), known in the sports world as "The Great Imposter", after pretending to be an MLB umpire, an NBA All-Star, and a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, among other things
- Ferdinand Waldo Demara (1921–1982), "The Great Impostor", who masqueraded as many people from monks to surgeons to prison wardens
- Christian Gerhartsreiter (b. 1961), German impostor and convicted murderer who claimed to be a member of the Rockefeller family, among other things
- Stanley Clifford Weyman (1890–1960), American multiple impostor who impersonated public officials, including the U.S. Secretary of State and various military officers
- Laurel Rose Willson (1941–2002), who claimed to be "Lauren Stratford", a victim of satanic ritual abuse, and later on, Holocaust survivor, "Laura Grabowski"
- Mamoru Samuragochi (b. 1963), who claimed to be a "deaf composer", though it was later revealed that his hearing ability has already improved and most of his works were written by Takashi Niigaki, conductor of "Onimusha Soundtrack", produced by Samuragouchi.
Women who lived as men
Many women in history have presented themselves as men in order to advance in typically male-dominated fields. In most cases their exact relationship to their male presentation was never recorded unambiguously or at all; if or how they would fit into modern Western transgender categories can never be certain.
- James Barry (c. 1790 – 1865), born Margaret Ann Bulkley who successfully lived as a male military surgeon in the British Army
- Frances Clayton (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. 850s or 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
- Loreta Janeta Velazquez (1842 – c. 1902), Cuban-born woman who claimed that she masqueraded as a male Confederate soldier during the American Civil War
Men who lived as women
- 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.
- Dora Ratjen (1918–2008) was a male with intersex features, raised as a girl. He gained awareness to be male in his early teens. He competed in women's high jump, won the gold medal the 1938 European Athletics Championships and broke the women's world record in 1939. After a criminal investigation followed against him in the same year, he had to return the gold medal and his name was expunged from the records.
- Joseph A. Cafasso (b. 1956), former Fox News military analyst who claimed to have been a highly decorated Special Forces soldier and Vietnam War veteran. He actually served in the United States Army for only 44 days in 1976.
- Wes Cooley (b. 1932), former U.S. Congressman from Oregon who claimed to have fought in the Korean War. He served in the U.S. Army for two years, but was never in Korea.
- Brian Dennehy (born 1938), American actor who claimed to have fought in the Vietnam War. He served in the United States Marine Corps for four years, but was never in Vietnam.
- George Dupre (1903–1982), who claimed that he worked for the SOE and the French Resistance during World War II. Dupre served in World War II, but he was never in France or with the SOE.
- Joseph Ellis (born 1943), American professor and historian who claimed a tour of duty in the Vietnam War. His actual military record consisted of obtaining a graduate student deferral of service until 1969 and then teaching history at West Point until 1972.
- Jack Livesey (b. 1954), British historian, military advisor on film productions, and author who claimed to have a distinguished twenty-year career in the Parachute Regiment. He actually served as a cook in the Army Catering Corps for three years.
- Jesse Macbeth (b. 1984), anti-war activist who claimed to be an Army Ranger and veteran of the Iraq War. He was discharged from the Army as unfit for duty before completing basic training.
- Alan Mcilwraith (b. 1978), a call centre worker from Glasgow who, among other things, claimed that he was a decorated captain in the British Army. Mcilwraith had never served in the military.
- James Shortt (b. 1953), Director-General of the International Bodyguard Association, who at various times made false claims to have served in the British Special Air Service, Parachute Regiment and military and law enforcement units around the world. Shortt's actual military experience only amounted to a few months' part-time service in the British Territorial Army.
- Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt (1849–1922), German impostor who masqueraded as a Prussian military officer in 1906 and became famous as "The Captain of Köpenick"
- Micah Wright (b. 1974), anti-war activist who claimed to be an Army Ranger involved in the United States invasion of Panama and several other special operations. He was an ROTC student in college, but never took a commission and never served in the military.
- Eric von Stroheim film director (The Merry Widow made in 1925) and actor (Sunset Boulevard shot in 1950) fabricated an elaborate back-story for himself as an Austrian aristocrat and imperial officer. In reality he was the son of a lower-middle-class Jewish hat maker, and never served in any military. He did however portray German Officers on screen.
- 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.
- 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.
- Robert Hendy-Freegard (b. 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 (b. 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.
- 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.
- Stephen Rannazzisi (b. 1978), American actor and comedian who claimed to be a survivor of the September 11 attacks.
- Steven Jay Russell (b. 1957), who has impersonated judges and a doctor, among others, and is known for escaping from prison multiple times.
- William Stirrat, claimed to be Hy Zaret, the writer of the lyrics to the hit song Unchained Melody.
- Treva Throneberry (b. 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.
- Blandings Castle and Elsewhere, 20th-century series by P. G. Wodehouse, featuring impersonations, and the resulting confusion as a common theme in the fictional Blandings Castle
- The Count of Monte Cristo, 1844 adventure novel by French author Alexandre Dumas
- Man in the Iron Mask (d. 1703), name given to a prisoner arrested as Eustache Dauger in 1669 or 1670, and the subject of many books.
- The Prisoner of Zenda 1894 adventure novel by British author Anthony Hope.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- "CNBC pundit and hedge-fund operator at heart of $4 million Ponzi scheme". NY Daily News. Retrieved October 13, 2014.
- von Lüpke, Marc (1 November 2013). "Doktor Dreist" [Doctor Brazen]. Der Spiegel (in German).
- Barrett, William P. (11 October 2004). "The Fakes". Forbes. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
- Horowitz, Eli (May 2003). "Interview with Ashida Kim". The Believer. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
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