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An impostor is a person wants, seem more than it is by a higher social rank , a better professional position or a larger fortune pretending , often with the intention of fraud .

Often, impostors make a name for themselves who are able to deceive their environment over a longer period of time, for example when they work as doctors or other experts without attracting attention. They often enjoy a certain sympathy when they uncover grievances or unmask their victims' greed for money.


The term impostor originally meant beggar . Stacking comes from a theory is from the slang , meaning begging , tippeln . The high syllable, in turn, means that the person pretends to be posh.

In 1851, an impostor was defined in the book The Dangerous Classes of Vienna as "a dangerous beggar who, with false certificates of accidents or the like, and by usually attaching noble names and titles to himself, excellently pillages the higher classes ."

Criminal liability

Constitution as such is not a criminal offense, but it can constitute one of the following criminal offenses:

The prerequisites for fraud are present if the impostor harms his victim by faking false facts (here: about his identity). A forgery of a document essentially consists of someone signing with a false name. In the case of presumption of office, the impostor carries out actions that only public officials are authorized to carry out. An impostor is mainly accused of “illegally using academic degrees” if, for example, he wrongly calls himself a “ doctor ”.

The impostor commits an administrative offense if he uses a state-protected professional title without authorization (see title abuse ).

If one does not see impostors as mere criminals (which they do not have to be in every case, for example not if they avoid the above-mentioned “traps”), their masquerade refers to the problem of identity and social roles .

To call someone else an imposter can be a defamation.

Special characteristics


  • In medieval history, there are several examples of false rulers . A German example is Tile Kolup , who in 1284 led many to believe that he was the long-dead Emperor Friedrich II. King Rudolf von Habsburg had him burned in Wetzlar on July 7, 1285 .
  • Numerous legends and speculations surround the French adventurer, impostor and diplomat Count von Saint Germain , who died in Eckernförde in 1784 .
  • From 1864 to 1870 the later writer Karl May gave himself up as an ophthalmologist Dr. Holy out, as a seminar teacher, as a member of the secret police and as the nephew of a plantation owner from Martinique .
  • In 1906, Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt, disguised in a captain's uniform , occupied the town hall of the city of Cöpenick , the story caused a sensation throughout Germany and is still popular today thanks to Carl Zuckmayer's play Der Hauptmann von Köpenick and subsequent film adaptations.
  • Cassie Chadwick claimed to be the daughter of millionaire Andrew Carnegie and cheated on banks based on that.
  • Victor Lustig "sold" the Eiffel Tower to a scrap dealer in 1925 and cheated on Al Capone .
  • Karl Ignaz Hummel pretended to be a missing person named Oskar Daubmann in 1932, claiming he was held captive in Africa by the French for 16 years. He wanted to enable a return trip from Italy to Germany for which he had no money. Against his will he became a "hero" with this story of lies and gained international fame. He lectured and received numerous honors until he was exposed.
  • The con man and check fraudster Frank W. Abagnale swindled around 2.5 million US dollars in 26 countries in the 1960s and 1970s. Today he advises various banks, airlines, hotels and other companies in his own company.
  • As a trained postman, the impostor Gert Postel was able to hold a senior physician position in psychiatry and claims to have influenced legal policy with his case. Armin Nack (then presiding judge at the Federal Court of Justice) said at a legal lecture at the University of Passau on May 31, 2012, “I'll tell you one thing: Postel was the best expert. Better than the two trained psychiatrists! ”According to the newspaper Die Welt, Postel said “ Anyone who has mastered dialectics and psychiatric language can formulate any nonsense without limits and then put it in the guise of the academic ”.
  • Christian E., who had only just barely made it through secondary school, forged certificates and was employed as a surgeon with two fake doctoral degrees at the University of Erlangen Hospital .
  • Christian Gerhartsreiter alias "Clark Rockefeller", known from Walter Kirn's "Blood wants to talk"
  • Robin van Helsum pretended to be an underage orphan Ray in September 2011 and claimed to have lived with his father for five years in the woods until he died in a fall in the wild and was buried by himself. In June 2012 it was announced that “Ray” was the 20-year-old Dutchman Robin van Helsum from Hengelo . He broke off his training and admitted that he had made up the previous information. His father only died in February 2012.

The motif of "imposture" in literature (selection)

The motif of "imposture" in the film (selection)


  • Stephan Porombka: Felix Krull's heirs. The history of imposture in the 20th century . Blumenkamp, ​​Göttingen 2008, ISBN 978-3-9810685-4-2 (Original title: Felix Krulls Erben. On the history of high stacking in the 20th century . Berlin 2001.).
  • Jürgen W. Schmidt: A con man in Erfurt: Martha Barth alias "Divorced Crown Princess of Greece" or "Princess Margarethe of Prussia" . In: Yearbook for Erfurt History . tape 5 . Erfurt 2010, p. 149-180 .
  • Christian Saehrendt and Steen T. Kittl : “It's all bluff! How we become impostors without wanting to. Or maybe it? "Heyne, Munich 2011. Author interviews: [1] and [2]
  • Gottfried Keller : Clothes make the man

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Adolf Storfer, Words and Their Fates, Berlin 1935, p. 178.
  2. Josef Schnelle: The Immortal . In: Süddeutsche Zeitung from 22./23. June 2019, p. 38
  3. Lothar Schröder: Died 100 years ago: The Metamorphosis of Karl May . In: RP ONLINE .
  4. Armin Nack. Der Spiegel 24/2013 from June 10, 2013, accessed on January 15, 2016.
  5. ^ Die Welt (January 20, 1999): The doctor games of the impostor Postel .
  6. Reinhard Platzek: The psychiatric treatment according to Kaufmann - is it really medical torture? A reflection on the modern perception of electrosuggestive therapy. In: Medical historical messages. Journal for the history of science and specialist prose research. Volume 34, 2015 (2016), pp. 169–193, here: p. 170.
  7. Eckart Roloff and Karin Henke-Wendt: Gert Postel: The wrong Dr. Dr. shows what nerves are. In: Roloff and Henke-Wendt: Damaged instead of healed. Major German medical and pharmaceutical scandals. S. Hirzel, Stuttgart 2018, pp. 109–122, ISBN 978-3-7776-2763-2
  8. Conjurer in white. Christian E. excelled as a doctor at the Erlangen University Hospital . In: Süddeutsche Zeitung . October 19, 2009, ISSN  0174-4917 , p. 46 .
  9. ^ The clerk at the scalpel . In: . 2010, ISSN  0174-4917 ( ).
  10. Moritz W. Lange: Kalter Abgrund, Berlin 2010, afterword p. 285.
  11. Süddeutsche Zeitung March 8, 2010, p. 15.

Web links

Commons : Impostors  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: impostor  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations