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Traité des trois imposteurs by anonymous (date unknown, edition shown 1777)
Traité des trois imposteurs by anonymous (date unknown, edition shown 1777)

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
See Treatise of the Three Impostors

An impostor 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.

Pretenders for various thrones used to be common. Numerous men claimed they were Dauphin, the heir to the French throne who disappeared during the French Revolution, and there were three false Dimitris who were serious pretenders for the throne of Russia.

Very daring impostors may pretend to be someone else who really exists, although fast news media has made this rather difficult. Usually they just misrepresent their financial status, educational status, social status, family background or in some cases, their gender. Impostors are usually aware of not being who they say they are, however there are borderline cases who may have ended up believing their own tall tales. People may make false claims about their past or background without being full-blown impostors; non-existent military service seems common.

Many temporary impostors are criminals who maintain the façade for a time of a caper to defraud their victims (like Wilhelm Voigt).

Others, like US prankster Joey Skaggs, do it as a prank or to make a point of some kind. The latter usually reveal the truth sooner or later. Some, like John Howard Griffin, have adopted other identity for purposes of research, investigation or experiment. Note that although impostors usually misrepresent their background, their intentions may not be criminal as such. They may wish to start anew with a new identity or "go native"; i.e. adopt identity and customs of other people.

Sometimes women have masqueraded as men to obtain privileges only men can have or work in male-dominated professions. Some of them have fought as men at least in Napoleonic Wars and American Civil War. Sometimes, an organization or individual who has been fooled keeps quiet to avoid the embarrassment and therefore allows the impostor try the same thing elsewhere.

Of course, the most successful impostors are those whose duplicity is never revealed so that we know nothing about them.


Notable impostors


Exotic impostors

Royal impostors

Academic impostors

  • Martin Hewitt, who became a university professor without real credentials.
  • 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.
  • 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, who may not have been transgendered, have presented themselves as men in order to advance in typically male-dominated fields. See also: Crossdressing during wartime

Military Impostors



  • Sarah Burton: Impostors - Six kinds of liar

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Impostor" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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