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.
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
- Mattie Griffith Browne (1828–1906), American writer who falsely claimed to be a former black slave
- H. G. Carrillo (1960–2020), American writer and Assistant Professor of English at George Washington University who claimed to be a Cuban immigrant despite having been born in Detroit to American parents.
- 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 collaborated with Nazis in the Holocaust
- Rachel Dolezal (born 1977), former president of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington who claimed African-American heritage despite being born to white parents
- 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 who later claimed he was a Cherokee American Indian
- Jessica A. Krug ("Jess 'La Bombalera'"), former associate professor at George Washington University who admitted to falsely claiming identities including "North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness" throughout her career while being Jewish.
- Andrea Smith, an American academic, feminist, and activist against violence who claimed Cherokee identity without proof or acceptance by the Cherokee nation
- 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
- Joseph Boyden (born 1966) Canadian writer who falsely claimed First Nations ancestry
- Rose Christo, an author of young adult fiction novels, who announced a memoir positing that she was a Native American who had been separated from her brother in foster care and had never been able reconnect with him, and falsely claimed to have written the Harry Potter fan fiction My Immortal. Her brother revealed on Kiwi Farms that she was actually of Greek descent, had never been in foster care, and that she was voluntarily estranged from him.
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 genuine but was claimed to be an imposter by his successor
- 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" as Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
- 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 assumed name of John Keehan, who claimed to be descended from Spanish nobility. 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 was proven.
- 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 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 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 (1933–2018), 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
- Carlos Castaneda (1925–1998), anthropologist and spiritual writer posing as an apprentice to the nonexistent Don Juan Matus
- Ravi Desai, (active 1996-2002), 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.
- 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.
- Sante Kimes (1934-2014), at times impersonated an ambassador's wife or Elizabeth Taylor and was eventually convicted of murdering her landlady, wealthy socialite Irene Silverman, with the apparent plan to take Silverman's place.
- 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.
- 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
- Anna Sorokin (born 1991), who pretended to be a wealthy German heiress before being convicted of grand larceny.
- 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"
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.
- William James Clark, American fraudster who impersonated a U.S. Army captain during the 2002 Webbers Falls Bridge Collapse Disaster near Webbers Falls, Oklahoma.
- Brian Dennehy (1938–2020), 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.
- Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt (1849–1922), German impostor who masqueraded as a Prussian military officer in 1906 and became famous as "The Captain of Köpenick"
- Frank Dux (Born 1956), Canadian-American martial artist who claimed to have been a covert Central Intelligence Agency soldier in Southeast Asia and to have received the Medal of Honor. Dux also claimed to have won an illegal martial arts competition called the Kumite. No evidence for these claims has been found, and although Dux served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, he never saw combat.
- 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.
- Donald J. Watt (Born 1918), Australian soldier who claimed to have been a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz concentration camp
- Martin Gray (1921-2016), Polish Jew who falsely claimed to have imprisoned in Treblinka extermination camp
- Misha Defonseca (Born 1937) Belgian Catholic woman who took the identity of a Jewish Holocaust survivor
- Rosemarie Pence (born 1938) American woman who falsely claimed to have been a German Jew imprisoned at Dachau concentration camp, and told her stories in an authorized biography Hannah: From Dachau to the Olympics and Beyond
- Binjamin Wilkomirski (born Bruno Grosjean in 1941), who adopted a constructed identity as a Holocaust survivor and published author.
- James Frey (Born 1969) American writer who presented himself as a reformed convict and drug addict, who in actuality had no criminal record
- Jackson, Lauren Michele. "The Layered Deceptions of Jessica Krug, the Black-Studies Professor Who Hid That She Is White". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-09-13.
- "Rachel Dolezal Admits She Was 'Biologically Born White' but Maintains That She Identifies as Black".
- Lauren Lumpkin and Susan Svrluga (2020-09-03). "White GWU professor admits she falsely claimed Black identity". The Washington Post.
- Jaschik, Scott (6 July 2015). "Fake Cherokee? Scholar who has made name as Cherokee is accused of not having Native American roots". www.insidehighered.com. Retrieved 2020-09-10.
- Mullins, Luke (May 19, 2008). "How Frank Abagnale Would Swindle You". U.S. News. Retrieved February 14, 2011.
- Noble, Kenneth B. (17 April 1996). "Doctor's Specialty Turns Out to Be Masquerade". The New York Times.
- Shafer, Jack (12 March 2002). "Who Is "Robert Klingler"?". Slate.
- Donelly, Beau; Toscano, Nick (22 April 2015). "The Whole Pantry author Belle Gibson admits she lied about having terminal cancer". smh.com.au. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
- "CNBC pundit and hedge-fund operator at heart of $4 million Ponzi scheme". NY Daily News. Retrieved October 13, 2014.
- 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.
- von Lüpke, Marc (1 November 2013). "Doktor Dreist" [Doctor Brazen]. Der Spiegel (in German).
- Shearer, Lee (14 April 2018). "Brothers in arms?: Civil War reality predates transgender debate". Athens Banner-Herald. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
- Rutenberg, Jim (April 29, 2002). "At Fox News, The Colonel Who Wasn't". The New York Times.
- Ehrenberg, Nicholas (November 11, 2005). "Fake War Stories Exposed". CBS News. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
- 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.
- John, Marshall (2004-12-07). "Ellis doesn't want to revisit his own past". Seattle Post Intelligencer. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
- Ellis, Joseph (2001-08-17). "Further Statement of Joseph J. Ellis". mountholyoke.edu. Archived from the original on 2006-07-15. Retrieved 2006-08-04.
- "Historian 'posed as a war hero'". BBC News. 3 July 2009.
- Brian Ross and Vic Walter (September 21, 2007). "Anti-War YouTube 'Vet' Admits He Is Faker". ABC News. Retrieved 2007-09-22.
- Seenan, Gerard (11 April 2006). "Captain Sir Alan KBE - call-centre worker". the Guardian.
- "Micah Wright Comes Clean, Ranger Story a Hoax". CBR. 2 May 2004.
- "Erich von Stroheim". IMDb. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
- Laura Plitt, producer, "Frederic Bourdin – the man who changed his identity 500 times," BBC News, 19 October 2012.
- Hailey Branson-Potts (August 15, 2013). "Rockefeller impostor gets 27 years in prison; maintains innocence". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- "'Japan's Beethoven' Samuragochi paid hearing composer to write music". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 5 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
- "'MI5' conman wins sentence appeal". BBC. 25 April 2007.
- NPR Staff (March 26, 2012). "The Amazing, Untrue Story Of A Sept. 11 Survivor". NPR.org.
- 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.
- "Spanish Nazi camp 'survivor' lied". A leading representative of Holocaust survivors in Spain has admitted to being "an impostor". BBC. 12 May 2005.
- 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.
- Day, Elizabeth (5 September 2009). "I love you Phillip Morris: a conman's story". the Guardian.
- Lapppin, Elana (6 June 1999). "The Boy Who had Two Lives". The Independent.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Impostors.|
- The Fake Warrior Project, POW Network