List of impostors
An impostor (also spelled imposter) is a person who pretends to be somebody else, often through means of disguise. Their objective is usually 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
False nationality claims
- Princess Caraboo (1791–1864), Englishwoman who pretended to be a princess from a fictional island
- 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 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
- Helen Darville (born 1972), Australian writer who falsely claimed Ukrainian ancestry as part of the basis of her novel The Hand that Signed the Paper about a Ukrainian family who participate with Nazis in the Holocaust
- Grey Owl (1888–1938), born Archibald Belaney, an Englishman who took on the identity of an Ojibwe
- 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.
- Rachel Dolezal (born 1977), former president of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington who claimed African-American heritage despite being born to white parents.
False Papal claims
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 (1900–2000), 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 Frederica 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 (1905–1968), 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.
- Michael Goleniewski (1922–1993), 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
- Tile Kolup (d. 1285), also known as Dietrich Holzschuh, was an impostor who in 1284 began to pretend to be the Emperor Frederick II
- 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
- 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
- Frank Abagnale (born 1948), who passed bad cheques 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
- Alessandro Cagliostro (1743–1795) Italian adventurer and self-styled magician
- Belle Gibson (born 1991), an Australian alternative wellness advocate who falsely claimed to have survived multiple cancers without using conventional cancer treatments
- 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 lured women into vulnerable situations by pretending to people they knew, then lawyers representing them, and then raped them.
- Arthur Orton (1834–1898), also known as the Tichborne Claimant, who claimed to be the missing heir Sir Roger Tichborne
- Paul Palaiologos Tagaris (c. 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"
- Tommy Robinson (activist), arrested for mortgage fraud and known for using multiple alaises. Has also defrauded thousands out of money for legal costs which were not real.
Wartime impostors and spies
Many women in history have presented themselves as men in order to advance in typically male-dominated fields. There are many documented cases of this in the military during the American Civil War. However their purpose was rarely for fraudulent gain. They are listed in the List of wartime cross-dressers.
Spies have often pretended to be people other than they were. One of the famous was Chevalier d'Eon (1728–1810), a French diplomat who successfully infiltrated the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia by presenting as a woman.
- 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.
- Brian Dennehy (born 1938), American actor who enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1958 and served in Okinawa until 1963. In numerous interviews, he falsely claimed to be a Vietnam veteran who served a five-year tour there.
- 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, 1925) and actor (Sunset Boulevard, 1950) created a 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.
- 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), a serial impostor and convicted murderer who infamously posed as a member of the Rockefeller family and became the subject of several books.
- Marvin Hewitt (b. 1922), who impersonated several academics and became a university physics professor
- 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.
- 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.
- Kaspar Hauser (1812–1833) German youth who claimed to have grown up in the total isolation of a darkened cell
- Robert Hendy-Freegard (b. 1971), English barman, car salesman and conman who masqueraded as a MI5 agent.
- 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.
- 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.
- Arnaud du Tilh (1524–1560), 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 Prince and the Pauper 1881 Mark Twain novel tells the story of two young boys who are identical in appearance.
- The Prisoner of Zenda 1894 adventure novel by British author Anthony Hope.
- Brat Farrar, 1949 Josephine Tey story of a young man coached to become a long-missing member of a wealthy English family.
- The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1955 Patricia Highsmith created the amoral Tom Ripley, who takes over the identity and life of a wealthy American and commits murder to hide his impersonation.
- The Associate, 1996 film starring Whoopi Goldberg who disguises herself as a white man to get a job on Wall Street
- Accepted, 2006 American comedy film where a high school slacker and his friends pretend to be college students and fool their parents into believing their college was real
- Aladdin, 1992 American animated comedy musical romantic fantasy adventure film about a street urchin who finds a magic lamp containing a genie who helps him pretend to be a wealthy prince to marry and fall in love with the sultan's daughter in order to hide the lamp from the grand vizer
- 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
- Can't Buy Me Love, 1987 American teen romantic comedy starring Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson about a nerd at a high school in Tucson, Arizona who gives a cheerleader $1,000 to pretend to be his girlfriend for a month to be more popular
- Camp Nowhere, 1994 American comedy film starring Christopher Lloyd as an ex-drama teacher who pretends to be a camp counselor to help kids fake their own summer camp to dupe their parents
- Critical Condition, 1987 American medical comedy film starring Richard Pryor as a con man who pretends to be a doctor to escape from custody from the authorities
- Class Act, 1992 American comedy film starring hip-hop duo Kid 'n Play as two teenagers, one an intelligent nerd the other a juvenile delinquent who assume the identities of each other when there's a school mix-up with their school records
- 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
- Don't Tell Her It's Me, 1990 comedy film starring Steve Guttenberg as an overweight cartoonist who poses as a biker from New Zealand
- Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead, 1991 American comedy film starring Christina Applegate as a 17-year-old high school graduate who pretends to be an adult when the babysitter dies of a sudden coronary to prevent her mother from returning home on time
- Face/Off, 1997 American science fiction action thriller film starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, who assume the physical appearances of each other
- Genius, 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie where a 13-year-old whiz kid takes on a bad boy image to make friends his own age
- Houseguest, 1995 comedy film starring Sinbad who pretends to be a rich dentist
- The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, 1992 American psychological thriller film where a vengeful, psychopathic woman pretends to be a nanny to destroy a woman and steal her family
- I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, 2007 American comedy film where two straight firefighters pose as gay 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
- Just One of the Girls, 1993 comedy film starring Corey Haim as a bullied teenage boy who disguises himself as a girl to escape the high school's bully
- 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
- Little Sister, 1992 American comedy film about a college freshman who poses as a woman as a fraternity prank to be pledged into a sorority
- Ladybugs, 1992 American sports comedy film starring Rodney Dangerfield as a girls' soccer team coach who gets his future stepson to pose as a girl to put him on his team
- Leap of Faith, 1992 American comedy-drama film starring Steve Martin as a con man who pretends to be a traveling evangelist
- Mrs. Doubtfire, 1993 American comedy film starring Robin Williams who disguises himself as a pleasant, elderly British nanny
- Motocrossed, 2001 Disney Channel Original Movie about a young girl who secretly poses as her twin brother to win the big motocross race for him after he is injured
- Moon over Parador, 1988 American romantic comedy film starring Richard Dreyfuss as a film actor who impersonates the dictator of Parador after he dies of a heart attack
- The New Guy, 2002 American teen comedy film about a high school geek who poses as a dangerous criminal to be more popular
- Nuns on the Run, 1990 British comedy film starring Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane as criminals posing as nuns to hide from a rival gang
- Nobody's Perfect, 1990 American comedy film starring Chad Lowe as a college freshman who poses as a girl to join the women's tennis team in order to be closer to the girl he likes after getting kicked off his college's tennis team
- Overboard, 1987 American romantic comedy film about a poor carpenter who tricks a rich, amnesiac heiress into believing that he is her husband; remade in 2018 with the gender roles reversed
- The Parent Trap, 1961 American comedy film about long-lost identical twin sisters who meet at summer camp, then switch identities in order that each one could meet the parent that she never knew; remade in 1998
- 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
- Sorority Boys, 2002 American comedy film where three college boys disguise themselves as women to prove their innocence for a crime they did not commit
- 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
- Wedding Crashers, 2005 American comedy film starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as two party crashers who trick a wedding party into believing they were invited
- The Wedding Date, 2005 American romantic comedy starring Debra Messing as a single woman who hires a male escort to pose as her boyfriend at her sister's wedding in order to fool her ex-fiancé
- Yentl, 1983 American romantic musical drama based on the 1975 play of Singer's short story "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy" where Barbra Streisand as a Jewish girl who disguises herself as a boy to enter religious training
- 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
- Imposters, 2017 American dark comedy television series
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