I’m not much for celebrity, but I do like hearing about ordinary impostors. When the story broke about “Clark Rockefeller,” the German peasant who insinuated himself into the upper echelons of society wherever he went, I could not get enough (except for maybe this satiating piece in Vanity Fair, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit). Around the same time the New Yorker published a piece on a French man who impersonated missing children, some real, some not. I had to read every word.
I suppose I’m drawn to these macabre stories because such stories aren’t supposed to happen in our post-wired world. We’re not supposed to be able to game the system for years on end, as both those men did. What drives a person to create such an elaborate guise, of all the ones that might be adopted?Perhaps it’s also interesting to wonder about identity — who are we, really? What can we trust about ourselves and those around us? Impostors seem to play, and prey, on our ideas of how people behave in community.

Lately, I followed the saga of Harvard’s fake student Adam Wheeler, caught when he brazenly applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. He was recently ordered to pay back $45,000.  I wonder if he’d be a good enough novelist or writer of screen thrillers to pay it back in spades, maybe set up the Adam Wheeler Scholar Fund, for a student who got closest to faking his or her way into Harvard each year.
Perhaps these ordinary impostors, these modern-day Bill Starbucks (from Richard Nash’s “The Rainmaker”),will disappear, overwhelmed by the spread of sensor technology and newfangled data mining techniques . My bet is cloaking technology will continue to let people slip through the cracks, no matter how good software gets at tracking us. Impostors are social hackers, and they’ll probably always stay one step ahead.

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