False Personation

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The crime of falsely assuming the identity of another to gain a benefit or avoid an expense.

The crime of falsely assuming the identity of another person in order to gain a benefit or cause harm to the other person can be referred to as false personation or false impersonation. False personation laws have been enacted at both the state and federal levels to protect the dignity, reputation, and economic well-being of the individual being impersonated. Further, these statutes deter criminals by discouraging the impersonator's pursuit of benefits.

A false impersonator need not alter her or his voice, wear a disguise, or otherwise change her or his characteristics or appearance in order to be found guilty. False personation simply involves passing oneself off as another person. For example, an individual who misrepresents herself to be someone else in order to wrongfully cash that person's paycheck commits false personation.

The person impersonated must be real, not fictitious. If a police officer pulls a driver over for speeding, and the driver pretends to be his brother, the driver is guilty of false personation. His brother is an actual person, and the crime of false personation is designed to take advantage of his brother's reputation and driving record. If the driver pretends to be Dick Tracy, a fictitious person, he is not guilty of false personation. Harming Dick Tracy's fictitious reputation and driving record is not an intended function of the crime. However, in this situation, the driver may be guilty of a different crime such as fraud or giving false information to a police officer.

The benefit or harm sought by impersonators may take many forms. Some are obvious, some are not. In the example of the driver who was pulled over for speeding and impersonated his brother, an obvious benefit is to avoid paying a speeding ticket. A less obvious benefit is to keep this offense off the driver's record. Even less obvious, the driver may have set up the whole situation in order to tarnish his brother's driving record or reputation.

False personation statutes may prohibit false personation of another generally, or they may specify a particular group, office, or profession. There are federal statutes that specifically prohibit the false personation of a U.S. citizen; an officer or employee of the United States in pursuit of money or other valuables; an officer or employee of the United States attempting to arrest or search a person or building; a creditor of the United States; a foreign diplomat or official; a 4-H Club member or agent; or a member or agent of the Red Cross. Many states have statutes prohibiting the impersonation of police officers, firefighters, married people, or voters.