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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An impostor or imposter is a person who pretends to be somebody else, often to try to gain financial or social advantages through social engineering, but just as often for purposes of espionage or law enforcement.

False pretenders to various thrones used to be common. Numerous men claimed they were the Dauphin, the heir to the French throne who disappeared during the French Revolution, and there were three false Dimitris who were serious pretenders to the throne of Russia. Other notable royal pretenders include Perkin Warbeck, Anna Anderson, and, more recently, Robert Brown, who claims to be the son of Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend (RAF officer).[1] The case of Anna Anderson is unusual in that it is believed that her claim to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia was the work of a third party, as she was not considered to be in sound mind. It also differs from many other impostures in that although hard, irrefutable scientific proof has arisen making her (or the third party's) claim without a doubt false, many still refuse to discount it.

Very daring impostors may pretend to be someone else who really exists, although the rapidity of modern news coverage has made this difficult in the case of notable individuals. Usually, however, impostors simply take on a new and completely fabricated identity, misrepresenting their financial status, educational status, social status, family background and, in some cases, gender. Impostors are usually aware of not being who they say they are. However, there are borderline cases who may end up believing their own tall tales, and some (often children or those suffering from a mental illness such as dementia or schizophrenia, as in the case of Anna Anderson) whose imposture may be the creation of a third party. People may make false claims about their past or background without being full-blown impostors; common false claims include having seen military action and involvement in well-known disasters such as the sinking of the RMS Titanic or the September 11, 2001, attacks. It is sometimes said that if every person who claimed to have "just missed" the Titanic's departure had been on board, the ship would have sunk like a lead weight in Southampton Harbour.

Many temporary impostors are criminals who maintain a façade temporarily to defraud their victims (such as Wilhelm Voigt). Others, such as US prankster Joey Skaggs, commit an imposture as a prank or to make a point of some kind. The latter usually reveal the truth sooner or later. Still others, such as John Howard Griffin, have adopted other identities for purposes of research, investigation or experiment. Although impostors usually misrepresent their backgrounds, their intentions may or may not be criminal as such. They may wish to start afresh with a new identity or "go native"; i.e. adopt the identity and customs of other people. John List is an example of a criminal who adopted a new identity in order to evade justice; in List's case, he was wanted for the mass murder of his entire family, including his three young children.

Women have masqueraded as men to obtain privileges only men can have or to work in male-dominated professions. Some have fought as men; examples are known from the Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War.

An organization or individual who has been fooled may keep quiet to avoid embarrassment; this may allow the impostor to evade disclosure.


Exposing impostors

In 1910 Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula), published a book of nonfiction called Famous Impostors which deals with the subject of exposing various impostors and hoaxes. A complete PDF version of the book can be downloaded from Bram Stoker Online.

Notable impostors


Exotic impostors

Royal impostors

Academic impostors

  • Dr Charlotte Bach, fringe evolutionary theorist, who was neither a doctor nor a woman.
  • Marvin Hewitt, who became a university professor without real credentials.
  • James Hogue, who most famously entered Princeton University by posing as a self-taught orphan.
  • Marilee Jones, Dean of Admissions at MIT and a 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.
  • Lana Nguyen, who became a university professor with the credentials of her husband. She resigned when students complained of her lack of knowledge on the subject she taught.[3]
  • Brian MacKinnon, who went back to being a teenager in order to re-enter medical school.
  • Azia Kim, who posed as a Stanford University student for eight months, before finally being caught.

People who "went native"

Multiple impostors

Women who lived as men

Many women in history have presented themselves as men in order to advance in typically male-dominated fields. Not all were transgender in the current sense. See also: Crossdressing during wartime.

Military impostors

Several people who have never served in the military have claimed service, often with decorations or membership in highly selective units. Others have actual military service, but embellished or exaggerated their accomplishments.

  • Mark Anthony Ruddy, of Christchurch Dorset England. Served three years with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and was discharged with a leg injury. Although he claims the IRA burst into his house shooting wild he was hit in the leg his non-existent 6-year old son was killed. Since then he has claimed to be a US Navy Seal, A CSM of the Special Air Service (22 SAS) and (21 SAS the Artisan Rifle a TA unit), and served with C Squadron of the Rhodesian SAS with service in Vietnam with the Australian SAS. He also pretended to be an ex para and stole a large sum from a charitable fund FOC (funds for Chandler) - a charity fund to raise money for a disabled child of a real Para. He also claimed to be the holder of the Queen's Gallantry Medal, A Military Medal, A US Silver Star, Bronze Star and two purple hearts plus other decorations he is not entitled to wear. He claims he has served in Northern Ireland, The Falklands, Gulf War 1, Columbia, Panama, Rwanda, Iraq 6 times and Afghanistan 3 times and a military adviser to the Chinese.
  • Barry Symkins, (nickname stumpy) spent 4 years in the Royal Engineers and while drunk fell through a glass table resulting in amputated fingers. He claims his injury was while flying a helicopter in Iraq and continually wears military dress uniform and a great deal of medals he is not entitled to wear. He has also portrayed serving in the French Foreign Legion and has previously been exposed by the daily mirror but he continues his waltering.
  • Raymond Webb, professes to be related to Capt Webb who was the first person to swim the English Channel. Other claims are that he served as a Lt Commander in the Royal Navy as Clearance Diving Instructor; to have served in the Falklands and with the US Navy Seals; and having dived to the Russian submarine the Kursk to rescue the trapped submariners.
  • Douglas Nicolas Gow, portrays living in Queensland Australia after being transferred from the RAF to the ARAF as a Wing Commander Medical Doctor. He claims to have earned his Para wings after just three jumps and was the station MO at RAF Akotiri, RAF Aden, and RAF Oman before being posted to RAF Ely as CO of Tropical Medicine. In actual fact Gow served as a RAF medic and emigrated to New Zealand after 6 years service.
  • Joseph A. Cafasso, 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 U.S. Army for only 44 days.
  • Wes Cooley, a former US Congressman 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, a famous American actor who claimed to have fought in the Vietnam War; he served in the United States Marine Corps for four years, but never in Vietnam.
  • George Dupre, who claimed that he had been working for the SOE and the French Resistance during World War II. Dupre served in World War II, but was never in France or with the SOE.
  • Joseph Ellis, American professor and historian who claimed a tour of duty in the Vietnam War. He served in the military during the war, but never left the U.S.
  • Jesse Macbeth, anti-war activist who claimed to be an Army Ranger ordered to execute innocent civilians in Iraq. He had been discharged from the Army as unfit for duty before completing basic training.
  • Alan Mcilwraith, a call centre worker from Glasgow who, among other things, claimed that he was a decorated captain in the British Army. An investigation proved that he had no military service.
  • Micah Wright, an anti-war activist who claimed to be an Army Ranger involved in the United States invasion of Panama, and several other covert operations. He was an ROTC student in college, but never took a commission and did not serve in the military.
  • James Shortt, (born 1953), British, SAS/Para impostor, Baron of Castleshort, DG International Bodyguard Association. His only military service was a few months as a medic with the Territorial Army (the British Army reserves).
  • click on cases to see more imposters.


In fiction



See also

External links

  • [1] more on cases.


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