This page considers contemporary conmen and women.
It covers -
Media coverage of contemporary identity crime has
often centred on exploitation of the 'rich & famous'
and on the bizarre, for example imposters in dental and
medical practice or purported survivors of disasters such
Most identity crime is more mundane. It is likely to happen
to you, or someone you know, rather than something that
only affects public figures. In aggregate the economic
value of thefts from non-celebrities is greater than looting
the stars. Arguably the day to day impact of identity
crime on ordinary people is greater: they are not cushioned
by wealth and have few of the comforts available to the
rich in dealing with a sense of violation and ongoing
disempowerment after an account has been drained or a
credit profile tarnished.
It is clear from looking at some high profile con jobs
that some scammers are there for the money. Some presumably
are gratified by a sense of power as they deceive their
victims. Some may enjoy the excitement of living on the
Other identity criminals appear to have put on a new profile
like a new set of clothes or a suit of armour. What we
have characterised as compulsives on occasion appear to
actually believe the lies that they told the people around
them - including their closest friends and families -
so that the lie becomes the person, the assumed identity
more real, more meaningful than the one they shed while
taking a bath.
Both groups of criminals demonstrate that questions of
'social engineering', exploitation of trust and willingness
to be deceived are central to much identity crime.
Christopher Rocancourt, active around 2000, swindled
the US rich and famous by variously pretending to a Rockefeller
heir, a movie producer, a global financier, the son of
Sophia Loren or the nephew of Dino De Laurentis.
He had earlier posed as 'Prince Galitzine Christo' and
dabbled in diamond smuggling, passport forgery and armed
robbery. The New York Times, with just a dash
of hyperbole, claimed that "Women threw themselves
at his feet; men threw cash". His Moi, Christophe
Rocancourt, orphelin, play-boy et taulard (Paris:
Éditions Michel Lafon 2002) and Mes vies
(Paris: Éditions Michel Lafon 2006) reportedly
portrays him as an intrepid Robin Hood punishing the foolish
Clark Rockefeller, dubbed Mr Crockefeller, gained international
attention by kidnapping his daughter after an unpleasant
divorce. He had used at least four aliases - eg James
Frederick, Charles Smith, Clark Mills Rockefeller and
Michael Brown - apparently appropriating the name of Rockefeller
relative James Frederick Mills Clark.
Rockefeller boasted that he was a millionaire member of
the oil dynasty, had paid for a 72ft yacht using gold
bars, was a physicist, was employed by an aeronautics
company and on secret work for the Pentagon, and had a
large collection of works by masters such as Mondrian
and Rothko. Yale dismissed his claim that he had attended
that university; US authorities deny that he has a Social
Security Number. Clark Rockefeller appears not to have
filed a US tax return or held a bank account, credit card
In mid-2008 US authorities indicated that Rockefeller
might be Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter of Germany, who
entered the US as an exchange student and whose fingerprints
have been matched to a stockbroker licence application
filed by Christopher Crowe (allegedly an alias of Christopher
Chichester, a suspect in the 1985 disappearance and presumed
murders of a Californian couple).
gained a job as a sales representative at brokerage house
S. N. Phelps & Co, being fired after trying to use
the social security number of David Berkowitz (the 'Son
of Sam' serial killer) to get his Wall Street broker's
licence. He was hired as vice-president of Nikko Securities
International after claiming he was formerly the head
of the - apparently fake - Battenberg-Crowe-von-Wettin
Family Foundation. He then moved to competitor Kidder
Peabody. Recruitment to senior positions in leading brokers
is an illustration that not all CVs
are for real and not all vetting
David Hampton (1964-2003) immortalised in John Guare's
1990 Six Degrees of Separation, gained attention
during the 1980s in relieving wealthy Manhattanites of
their money by convincing them he was Sidney Poitier's
US waiter Abraham Abdullah was imprisoned in 2001 after
fraudulently gaining over US$20 million by pretending
to represent celebrities such as Steven Spielberg, Oprah
Winfrey, Martha Stewart, Ross Perot and Warren Buffett.
He began by googling those figures, using that information
in forged Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs correspondence
that persuaded credit reporting
services such as Equifax and Experion to supply detailed
reports. Those reports were then used to dupe banks and
brokers into transferring money to accounts controlled
Knowing that the institutions would want to verify the
transfers, Abdullah typically included telephone numbers
where he could be reached. The institutions according
gained some reassurance through voicemail answered in
the victim's name. At his arrest he had 800 fraudulent
credit cards and a mere 20,000 blank credit cards.
His precursor was the more inventive US impostor Frederick
Emerson Peters (1885-1959). Peters wrote bad cheques masquerading
as famous people, often succeeding because the victims
framed the cheques as mementos rather than passing them
to a bank.
He initially posed as Theodore Roosevelt II, later becoming
antique expert 'RA Coleman' of the American Peace Society',
'JJ Morton' of the Widener Library, Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
Booth Tarkington and Gifford Pinchot II. At Peters' death
he was found to have five cheques on his pockets - each
for different identities.
Assuming the persona of someone famous - however improbably
- is not restricted to the US. Novelist Grahame Greene
thus discovered during the 1980s that an imposter was
busy in Asia, wining, dining, romancing and giving interviews.
Eddie Jablowsky (1934-1998) reinvented himself as Alan
- depicted in the 2006 film Color Me Kubrick
- and then wined, dined and slept his way through Europe
and the US in the guise of Stanley Kubrick, without having
seen most of Kubrick's films and having a tendency to
confuse Kubrick and Stanley Kramer. His son characterised
him as "a compulsive liar", noting that Conway
engaged in scams independent of his Kubrick impersonation.
US serial ID thief Carlos Lomax was sentenced to 37 months
in prison after pleading guilty to opening 14 credit accounts
with Pittsburgh retailers stores using the identity of
star Will Smith. At the time he was on probation after
running up US$81,000 on an American Express card as sports
journalist Steve Smith. As Will Smith he had pocketed
UK authorities claimed in 2004 that Robert Hendy-Freegard
posed as an MI5 officer, convincing people into spending
years in hiding while stealing over £650,000 of
their savings. It is alleged that he persuaded students
and other victims that they were on an IRA hit list through
their association with him, leading them to go undercover
for years in 'safe houses' and travel on spy missions
that featured waiting for hours at railway stations for
Sydney security guard Richard Kahotea was less creative,
using forged documents in support of claims that he was
a senior ASIO operative, thereby gaining closed court
hearings on four occasions and privileges for an associate.
Kahotea was convicted in to 300 hours of community service
for making a false statement under oath and using fabricated
UK businessman Michael Newitt was jailed for 2 years in
2008 after claiming to be a 'special operations commander'
with MI5, the UKForeign Office and police counter-terrorism
units. Newitt awarded himself a CMG, used fake Metropolitan
Police ID documents and even fitted his car with blue
strobe lights and a siren.
Why stop there? In his guise as a senior police officer
he arrested a suspected drink-driver on the M6 before
handing him to the local police. He was convicted of committing
fake ID cards offences, fraudulently claiming to be a
police officer, carrying two imitation firearms (including
a commando rifle), falsely suggesting he was a police
officer and improperly possessing articles of police uniform.
In 2005 Omid Amidi-Mazaheri was jailed for two years after
stealing the identity of a dentist, which allowed him
to become rich through shoddy treatment (drilling cavities
without local anaesthetic, providing fillings that crumbled
within days, dropping equipment down a patient's throat,
failure to observe HIV protocols).
Sheldon Zelitt, former head of Canadian high tech company
VisuaLabs, variously claimed to be a physicist, to have
served in Vietnam, dismantled a MiG fighter plane, developed
a spy satellite, and worked for the CIA and the Mossad.
After that supposed invention of 3-D television seems
to have been a mere bagatelle, albeit one that pushed
VisuaLabs' share price.
Things unravelled at the company's annual meeting in 2001,
when he tried to pass off a Sony device as his new invention.
Canadian authorities retrieved him after he fled to the
UK serial bride Emma Golightly was jailed in 2007 despite
claims she suffered from a split personality. As an unemployed
19 year old she convinced a succession of men that she
was a multimillionaire businesswoman with a terminal condition.
She had earlier posed as paediatric surgeon Taylor Golightly.
Despite a history of bounced cheques she persuaded her
suitors - found through dating
sites and lonelyhearts ads in newspapers - to shower
her with treats, including the usual designer shoes and
luxury cars, while she stole over £250,000 from
their credit cards. The £12,000 reception after
one bigamous wedding fizzled because she had not paid
for a marriage registrar.
David Davies merely charmed over £100,000 from women
met through dating sites, claiming that he was an engineer
or a member of the SAS and undertaking top-secret work
for the UK government.
blue bloods and bad cheques
Charles Albert Stopford fled the US in 1983 after attempting
to blow up his boss with a pipe bomb. He assumed the name
Christopher Edward Buckingham after stealing the identity
of a baby who died in 1963. He thereafter purported to
be the Earl of Buckingham, a UK title extinct for over
300 years, flaunting notepaper with the Buckingham coat
of arms and telling his German landlady that he needed
a large apartment to accommodate furniture from his English
The fake Earl was arrested at Dover in 2005 when an automated
check of the the UK births & deaths database revealed
his passport to be false; he was jailed for that offence
amid speculation that he was a renegade CIA officer or
even a mafia hitman. In prison he continued to insist
that he was an aristocrat.
Charles Lee Crutcher, aka Charles Decrevecoeur, claimed
to be Lord Peter de Vere Beauclerk before being jailed
Two years later Keith Andrews was on trial for fraud after
some 20 years of persuading people that he was Marc Philip
Justin Onslow Berkeley St Leger Curzon, the 10th Viscount
of Doneraile, son of Joy Chantal Helene de Burgoyne of
Paris and husband of Marie-Louise, daughter of the Duc
Delusions of blue blood were also apparent in the fake
2003 wedding of supposed Japanese Prince Satohito Arisugawa,
in reality Yasuyuki Kitano - conman and son of a greengrocer.
He made a career through product endorsements and as a
recipient of wedding gifts from dazzled commoners, with
the 2003 event bringing in a tidy 13 million yen.
Ottone Eugeno (aka Ottone Eugeno Camelio Bresselhau) claimed
to be Austrian baron Otto Von Bressensdorf, principal
of US investment bank Lyons Capital Inc. Together with
his associates the supposed banker defrauded clients by
convincing them to pay thousands of dollars in "advance
The US government drily commented that "In reality,
however, Lyons rarely helped clients at all" (PDF)
and questioned whether he was entitled to the title or
the medals worn at business meetings. Lyons had provided
fraudulent financial statements to Dunn & Bradstreet,
which in turn produced a commercial credit
rating used by potential clients in deciding whether
to engage Lyons.
Italian businessman Rosario Poidimani was arrested over
involvement in a scam centred on the claim that he was
the king of Portugal (the last king having expired in
1932). Poidimani allegedly sold imaginary aristocratic
titles and fraudulent diplomatic passports, underpinned
by imaginary offshore bank accounts and an elaborate throne
His associates claimed to be working towards creation
of a sovereign kingdom
(variously in the Ukraine or on a Croatian islet) that
would eventually become a EU member.
Murray Roberts (1919-1974) was fined £50 in 1941
for acting as a locum for a medical practitioner without
being qualified. Unabashed, during World War II he posed
as a brigadier and boasted of having done postgraduate
work in brain surgery in Moscow.
Using fictitious university degrees he gained employment
in Australia as a chemist and editor (notably of the Kalgoorlie
Miner), profitably posed as 'Professor Sir Leonard
Jackson' of the Petrov Royal Commission, gained admission
to Goulburn gaol as a professor of neurosurgery and posed
as 'governor-general designate Lord Russell' (rewarded
first with free hotel accommodation and then free accommodation
in a NSW prison).
Roberts subsequently he claimed to be 'Sir William Penny',
'Sir John Douglas', 'Dr Bodkin Adams', 'Justice Adams'
of the New Zealand Supreme Court and Baron Alfred von
Krupp. In 1962, in the guise of medical supremo 'Lord
Porter', he persuaded one victim to part with £400
towards surgery for that man's "deep seated cancer",
a fraud rewarded with imprisonment for four years.
In the US the death of the man known as William Milliken
Vanderbilt Kingsland revealed a Gatsby-style masterpiece
of reinvention. Supposed blue-blood Kingsland was born
Melvyn Kohn. Contrary to his claims he had not attended
Groton and Harvard or been married to a French royal.
The treasure trove of artworks in his apartment (including
items by Giacometti, Morandi, Picasso, Copley, Porter,
Schwitters and Redon) was mostly stolen.
Kingsland's ancestors arrived in the US in 1938 rather
than on the Mayflower but he had managed to gain
the confidence of figures such as Elton John and Andy
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