List of impostors

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cartoon of the would-be explorer Louis de Rougemont who claimed to have had adventures in Australasia.

An impostor (also spelled imposter)[1] 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 or through means of identity theft, but also often for purposes of espionage or law enforcement.

Notable impostors[edit]

False nationality claims[edit]

  • 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
  • Micheál Mac Liammóir (1899–1978), notable actor in Ireland, born in England as Alfred Willmore but invented an Irish birth and identity

False minority national identity claims[edit]

False royal heritage claims[edit]

See also: False pretenders

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


  • Frank Abagnale (born 1948), who passed bad checks as a fake pilot, doctor, and lawyer[10]
  • Joseph Ady (1770–1852), notorious English impostor and postal fraudster.
  • Gerald Barnbaum (1933–2018), former pharmacist who posed as a doctor for over twenty years, assuming the identities of various licensed physicians[11]
  • Alessandro Cagliostro (1743–1795), Italian adventurer and self-styled magician
  • Cassie Chadwick (1857–1907), who pretended to be Andrew Carnegie's daughter
  • Ravi Desai, (active 1996-2002), a journalist who posed as Robert Klinger, fictitious chief executive officer of BMW's North American division, in a series of articles for Slate magazine[12]
  • Belle Gibson (born 1991), an Australian alternative wellness advocate who falsely claimed to have survived multiple cancers without using conventional cancer treatments[13]
  • 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
  • Brian Kim (born 1975/1976), lived in Christodora House in Manhattan, falsified documents identifying himself as the president-secretary of its condo association, and transferred $435,000 from the association's bank account to his own bank account[14]
  • Sante Kimes (1934-2014), impersonated various public figures and was convicted of murdering her own landlady, wealthy socialite Irene Silverman, in an apparent plot to assume Silverman's identity
  • Mandla Lamba, "fake billionaire" from South Africa who received media attention by claiming to be a successful mining tycoon.[15][16][17]
  • 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 be people they knew, then lawyers representing them, and then raped them[18]
  • 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 succeeded in being named Latin Patriarch of Constantinople
  • Frederick Emerson Peters (1885–1959), U.S. celebrity impersonator and writer of bad checks
  • Gert Postel (born 1958), a mail carrier who posed as a medical doctor
  • Lobsang Rampa (1910–1981), formerly plumber Cyril Hoskins, who claimed to be possessed by the spirit of a deceased Tibetan lama 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
  • Anna Sorokin (born 1991), posed as a fictitious wealthy heiress to fraudulently obtain loans, luxury goods, travel, and stays at exclusive hotels[19]
  • Leander Tomarkin (1895–1967), fake doctor who became the personal physician of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, and convinced Albert Einstein to assume the honorary presidency of one of his medical conferences[20]

Wartime impostors and spies[edit]

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.[21] 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 famous case was that of Chevalier d'Eon (1728–1810), a French diplomat who successfully infiltrated the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia by presenting as a woman.

Military impostors[edit]

Historically, when military record-keeping was less accurate than today, some persons—primarily men—falsely claimed to be war veterans to obtain military pensions. Most did not make extravagant claims, because they were seeking money, not public attention that might expose their fraud. In the modern world, reasons for posing as a member of the military or exaggerating one's service record vary, but the intent is almost always to gain the respect and admiration of others.[22]

Multiple impostors[edit]

  • Frédéric Bourdin (born 1974), "the French Chameleon"[34]
  • 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 (born 1961), a serial impostor and convicted murderer who infamously posed as a member of the Rockefeller family and became the subject of several books[35]
  • Marvin Hewitt (born 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 as Holocaust survivor "Laura Grabowski"
  • Mamoru Samuragochi (born 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.[36]


In fiction[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Definition of impostor". Merriam-Webster. December 13, 2023. Retrieved December 16, 2023.
  2. ^ Jackson, Lauren Michele (12 September 2020). "The Layered Deceptions of Jessica Krug, the Black-Studies Professor Who Hid That She Is White". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-09-13.
  3. ^ Eskin, Blake (2008-08-18). "The Girl Who Cried Wolf: A Holocaust Fairy Tale". Boston Magazine. Retrieved 2023-10-30.
  4. ^ "Rachel Dolezal Admits She Was 'Biologically Born White' but Maintains That She Identifies as Black".
  5. ^ Lauren Lumpkin and Susan Svrluga (2020-09-03). "White GWU professor admits she falsely claimed Black identity". The Washington Post.
  6. ^ Keeler, Jacqueline (22 October 2022). "Sacheen Littlefeather was a Native American icon. Her sisters say she was an ethnic fraud". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 23 October 2022.
  7. ^ Bromwich, Jonah Engel; Marcus, Ezra (August 4, 2020). "The Anonymous Professor Who Wasn't". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Jaschik, Scott (6 July 2015). "Fake Cherokee? Scholar who has made name as Cherokee is accused of not having Native American roots". Retrieved 2020-09-10.
  9. ^ "Fake Saudi prince Anthony Gignac jailed for $8m fraud". BBC News. BBC. BBC. 1 June 2019. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  10. ^ Mullins, Luke (May 19, 2008). "How Frank Abagnale Would Swindle You". U.S. News. Retrieved February 14, 2011.
  11. ^ Noble, Kenneth B. (17 April 1996). "Doctor's Specialty Turns Out to Be Masquerade". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Shafer, Jack (12 March 2002). "Who Is "Robert Klingler"?". Slate.
  13. ^ Donelly, Beau; Toscano, Nick (22 April 2015). "The Whole Pantry author Belle Gibson admits she lied about having terminal cancer". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  14. ^ "CNBC pundit and hedge-fund operator at heart of $4 million Ponzi scheme". NY Daily News. Retrieved October 13, 2014.
  15. ^ Hawker, Diane (Nov 7, 2010). "So young, so rich, so many questions". Independent Online. Archived from the original on 2022-07-15. Retrieved 2022-07-15.
  16. ^ Mashaba, Sibongile (May 12, 2011). "Bogus billionaire's trail of debts". SowetanLIVE. Archived from the original on 2022-07-26. Retrieved 2022-07-26.
  17. ^ Wasserman, Helena (Jul 3, 2021). "SA's 'fake billionaire' is back, now selling shares on special to Somizi's followers". Fin24. Archived from the original on 2021-07-03. Retrieved 2022-07-15.
  18. ^ Griesser, Andy (2003-02-07). "Sex Under Duress: Cal. Court Upholds Rape Conviction for Ruse to Obtain Sex". ABA Journal. Archived from the original on August 21, 2008. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  19. ^ Ransom, Jan (May 9, 2019). "Sorokin, Who Swindled N.Y.'s Elite, Is Sentenced to 4 to 12 Years in Prison". The New York Times. Retrieved July 11, 2022.
  20. ^ von Lüpke, Marc (1 November 2013). "Doktor Dreist" [Doctor Brazen]. Der Spiegel (in German).
  21. ^ Shearer, Lee (14 April 2018). "Brothers in arms?: Civil War reality predates transgender debate". Athens Banner-Herald. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  22. ^ Henry Mark Holzer (August 9, 2012). Fake Warriors: Identifying, Exposing, and Punishing Those Who Falsify Their Military Service. Madison Press. ISBN 978-0985243784.
  23. ^ Rutenberg, Jim (April 29, 2002). "At Fox News, The Colonel Who Wasn't". The New York Times.
  24. ^ Ehrenberg, Nicholas (November 11, 2005). "Fake War Stories Exposed". CBS News. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
  25. ^ Burkett, B. G. (September 2, 1998). Stolen Valor : How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History (1st ed.). Verity Pr Inc. ISBN 096670360X.
  26. ^ McColl, Alexander (1 August 1996). "Full Mental Jacket". Soldier of Fortune. Vol. 21, no. 8. pp. 37–39. ISSN 0145-6784. LCCN 76647216. OCLC 2778757 – via Internet Archive.
  27. ^ John, Marshall (2004-12-07). "Ellis doesn't want to revisit his own past". Seattle Post Intelligencer. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
  28. ^ Ellis, Joseph (2001-08-17). "Further Statement of Joseph J. Ellis". Archived from the original on 2006-07-15. Retrieved 2006-08-04.
  29. ^ "Historian 'posed as a war hero'". BBC News. 3 July 2009.
  30. ^ Brian Ross and Vic Walter (September 21, 2007). "Anti-War YouTube 'Vet' Admits He Is Faker". ABC News. Retrieved 2007-09-22.
  31. ^ Oshinsky, David M. (March 17, 2020). "Fact from Fiction: Joseph McCarthy the Tail Gunner". Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  32. ^ Seenan, Gerard (11 April 2006). "Captain Sir Alan KBE - call-centre worker". the Guardian.
  33. ^ "Micah Wright Comes Clean, Ranger Story a Hoax". CBR. 2 May 2004.
  34. ^ Laura Plitt, producer, "Frederic Bourdin – the man who changed his identity 500 times," BBC News, 19 October 2012.
  35. ^ Hailey Branson-Potts (August 15, 2013). "Rockefeller impostor gets 27 years in prison; maintains innocence". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  36. ^ "'Japan's Beethoven' Samuragochi paid hearing composer to write music". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 5 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  37. ^ NPR Staff (March 26, 2012). "The Amazing, Untrue Story Of A Sept. 11 Survivor".
  38. ^ David W. Dunlap and Serge F. Kovalevski (September 27, 2007). "In a 9/11 Survival Tale, the Pieces Just Don't Fit". The New York Times. Retrieved September 27, 2007. Tania Head's story, as shared over the years with reporters, students, friends and hundreds of visitors to ground zero, was a remarkable account of both life and death.
  39. ^ "'MI5' conman wins sentence appeal". BBC. 25 April 2007.
  40. ^ "Spanish Nazi camp 'survivor' lied". A leading representative of Holocaust survivors in Spain has admitted to being "an impostor". BBC. 12 May 2005.
  41. ^ Kovaleski, Serge F. (September 16, 2015). "Steve Rannazzisi, Comedian Who Told of 9/11 Escape, Admits He Lied". The New York Times. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  42. ^ Day, Elizabeth (5 September 2009). "I love you Phillip Morris: a conman's story". the Guardian.
  43. ^ Ashford, Grace; Gold, Michael (December 19, 2022). "Who Is Rep.-Elect George Santos? His Résumé May Be Largely Fiction". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 22, 2022. Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  44. ^ Gold, Michael; Ashford, Grace (December 26, 2022). "George Santos Admits to Lying About College and Work History". The New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2022.
  45. ^ Lapppin, Elana (6 June 1999). "The Boy Who had Two Lives". The Independent.
  46. ^ Bilefsky, Dan; Porter, Catherine; Austen, Ian (April 20, 2020). "Police Seek Motive for Canada Killing Spree by Denture Fitter". The New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2022.

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