Serial Imposter

Serial Imposter

A serial imposter consistently lies about his or her background and creates various identities. The most famous recently discovered serial imposter is Christian Gerhartsreiter, a.k.a. Clark Rockefeller, Christopher Chichester and other aliases. His true identity came to the attention of the public in a highly publicized parental kidnapping case in 2009. Although he was using the name Clark Rockefeller and had been convincing wealthy, well-connected people that he belonged among the wealthy and famous, he had grown up in an undistinguished middle class family in Germany.

His compelling story in the book, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter by Mark Seal and in the TV movie "Who Is Clark Rockefeller?" There is even a lengthy Wikipedia entry on him. He was also prosecuted in Los Angeles in 2011 with murdering a landlady's son and daughter-in-law in 1985, who resided in San Marino, California.

There is nothing inherently illegal about creating a new identity. The legality of doing so depends on why the identity is being used. Obviously, pretending to be Marilyn Monroe or President Obama for Halloween is not illegal. But the false identity cannot be used to defraud others. It is also illegal to impersonate particular classes of people. For example, Rick Strandlof, another serial imposter, told all of his friends that he was a Jewish oil-and-gas attorney named Rick Gold.

It wasn't illegal to pretend to be Rick Gold. (He made the name up and he wasn't actually practicing law.) But when he posed as a decorated war hero named Rick Duncan, he violated the Stolen Valor Act, a Federal Law that makes it illegal to impersonate a war hero. Another serial imposter, Randall Keyser, was convicted of impersonating police officers (illegal in most states) and war heroes over a span of many years. Keyser claimed he did so for employment purposes – 22 different times – under various names in numerous states. There are also various situations in which it is illegal to use an alias, for example, when asked for identification by a police officer, when traveling by airplane or when applying for credit or requesting medical care.

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