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.

Notable impostors

False nationality claims

False minority national identity claims

False Papal claims

False royal heritage claims


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.[9] 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.

Military impostors

Multiple impostors

  • Frédéric Bourdin (b. 1974), "the French Chameleon"[22]
  • 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.[23]
  • 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.[24]


In fiction



  • 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

See also


  1. "Rachel Dolezal Admits She Was 'Biologically Born White' but Maintains That She Identifies as Black".
  2. Mullins, Luke (May 19, 2008). "How Frank Abagnale Would Swindle You". U.S. News. Retrieved February 14, 2011.
  3. Noble, Kenneth B. (17 April 1996). "Doctor's Specialty Turns Out to Be Masquerade". The New York Times.
  4. Shafer, Jack (12 March 2002). "Who Is "Robert Klingler"?". Slate.
  5. Donelly, Beau; Toscano, Nick (22 April 2015). "The Whole Pantry author Belle Gibson admits she lied about having terminal cancer". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  6. "CNBC pundit and hedge-fund operator at heart of $4 million Ponzi scheme". NY Daily News. Retrieved October 13, 2014.
  7. 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.
  8. von Lüpke, Marc (1 November 2013). "Doktor Dreist" [Doctor Brazen]. Der Spiegel (in German).
  9. Shearer, Lee (14 April 2018). "Brothers in arms?: Civil War reality predates transgender debate". Athens Banner-Herald. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  10. Rutenberg, Jim (April 29, 2002). "At Fox News, The Colonel Who Wasn't". The New York Times.
  11. Ehrenberg, Nicholas (November 11, 2005). "Fake War Stories Exposed". CBS News. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
  12. 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.
  13. John, Marshall (2004-12-07). "Ellis doesn't want to revisit his own past". Seattle Post Intelligencer. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
  14. Ellis, Joseph (2001-08-17). "Further Statement of Joseph J. Ellis". Archived from the original on 2006-07-15. Retrieved 2006-08-04.
  15. "Historian 'posed as a war hero'". BBC News. 3 July 2009.
  16. Brian Ross and Vic Walter (September 21, 2007). "Anti-War YouTube 'Vet' Admits He Is Faker". ABC News. Retrieved 2007-09-22.
  17. Seenan, Gerard (11 April 2006). "Captain Sir Alan KBE - call-centre worker". the Guardian.
  18. Dunn, Tom Newton (29 January 2009). "Fake SAS man given Cabinet security job". The Sun. Archived from the original on 1 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  19. "The Whip". The Sun. 30 January 2009. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 11 February 2009.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  20. "Micah Wright Comes Clean, Ranger Story a Hoax". CBR. 2 May 2004.
  21. "Erich von Stroheim". IMDb. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  22. Laura Plitt, producer, "Frederic Bourdin – the man who changed his identity 500 times," BBC News, 19 October 2012.
  23. Hailey Branson-Potts (August 15, 2013). "Rockefeller impostor gets 27 years in prison; maintains innocence". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  24. "'Japan's Beethoven' Samuragochi paid hearing composer to write music". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 5 February 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  25. "'MI5' conman wins sentence appeal". BBC. 25 April 2007.
  26. NPR Staff (March 26, 2012). "The Amazing, Untrue Story Of A Sept. 11 Survivor".
  27. 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.
  28. "Spanish Nazi camp 'survivor' lied". A leading representative of Holocaust survivors in Spain has admitted to being "an impostor". BBC. 12 May 2005.
  29. 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.
  30. Day, Elizabeth (5 September 2009). "I love you Phillip Morris: a conman's story". the Guardian.
  31. Lapppin, Elana (6 June 1999). "The Boy Who had Two Lives". The Independent.
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