What Is Criminal Impersonation?

By Teo Spengler - Updated April 23, 2018
Close-up of cuffed criminal hands

Wanna-be Elvis doesn't qualify, nor do those folks who wear wigs and give their names as Kardashian. This may be impersonation, but criminal impersonation it's not. Criminal impersonation is a much bigger and more malicious animal, and its fangs are "intent to defraud." If you try to get a credit card, bank loan or some other act to gain a benefit entitled to someone else and defrauding the lender, it is criminal impersonation and can send you to jail. Likewise, giving a fake name to a police officer so she won't discover your criminal history is also criminal impersonation.

Tip

Criminal impersonation is pretending to have an identity that you don't have in order to commit a crime, defraud someone, avoid some consequences or gain some benefit.

What Is Criminal Impersonation?

Criminal impersonation is a crime in all states. It involves pretending to be somebody you aren't with the intention of gaining a benefit you are not entitled to or to avoid some consequences you deserve. For example, if you open a bank account in the name of a celebrity, then try to get a bank loan, that is criminal impersonation. There are definite overlaps between the age-old crime of criminal impersonation and modern-day identity theft.

Criminal impersonation often comes up when a person is stopped by the police. The person gets pulled over for speeding and gives a false name and date of birth in order to avoid getting taken in on a prior arrest warrant. But it can also be criminal impersonation if you pretend to be a police officer and pull someone else over.

What Is Impersonation of a Police Officer?

If you try to pass yourself off as a police officer, it is definitely criminal impersonation. In New York, impersonating a police officer or other law enforcement officer is not just criminal impersonation. It is criminal impersonation in the first degree if you say you are a cop with the intent of committing a felony.

For example, there have been serial criminals who dress as police officers and pull people over to rape or kill them. Note that just dressing as a police officer is not enough, although it may violate some other law or regulation. Painting your car to resemble a police car is not sufficient in and of itself to constitute criminal impersonation, but it might be if you try to use it to your unfair advantage.

What Are the Penalties for Impersonating a Police Officer?

You can go to jail for pretending to be a police officer with the intention of committing a crime. But the potential penalties for criminal impersonation differ from one state to another.

In New York, impersonating a police officer is criminal impersonation in the first degree. It's a Class E felony with a penalty of up to four years in prison. In Colorado, this type of criminal impersonation is a class 6 felony and can subject the accused to 12 to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

In Tennessee, the statute explicitly makes it criminal impersonation to pretend to be a law enforcement officer. However, this is only a Class B misdemeanor in Tennessee, not a felony. In Washington, it is a Class C felony, punishable by more than a year in prison.

Is it Against the Law to Impersonate a Soldier?

It can be criminal impersonation to impersonate a soldier. However, just saying you are a soldier is not enough to make it a crime. In order to constitute criminal impersonation, you must impersonate a soldier in order to defraud someone, commit a crime, or gain some benefit to which you are not entitled.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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