Impersonation Gambit

Woman at ticket booth: You are... Cornelius Thorndyke and Ezra van Holt?
Alexis Wilder: Yea [ahem, hum] Yes, that's correct.
Woman: Yes, well, "Cornelius," I'm afraid these picture's don't—
Alex: That's my morning face! Ezra here just had some work done, and that's "Mister Thorndyke" to you, smartass.
— Two 20-somethings trying to get into the museum with senior citizen IDs, Our World

A sting operation in which the hero tries to infiltrate the villain's organization by passing themselves off as one of the bad guys.

For example, Bob is going to meet Alice to be given an Evil Plan to carry out. The hero, Charlie, catches up with Bob before he can meet with Alice. Since Alice and Bob have never met face to face, Charlie goes to the meeting point, pretending to be Bob. Charlie is attempting an Impersonation Gambit. If successful, he will take down Alice's organization, but this gambit doesn't always go as planned.

A subtrope of The Infiltration, only in this case, they are impersonating a real person that the villains were expecting to meet. Can result in a You Are Already Checked In if the person they're impersonating shows up. Compare Dressing as the Enemy which this trope can often overlap with.

Inexperienced in impersonation, the heroes might act according to Most Definitely Not a Villain (except that they're trying to pretend that they most definitely are a villain). They may also face the need to prove that they're as evil as the impersonatee is known to be.


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  • Happens a few times in James Bond films.
    • The World Is Not Enough has Bond impersonate a nuclear physicist trying to steal a warhead scheduled for decommissioning.
    • Diamonds Are Forever: James Bond impersonates Peter Franks in order to infiltrate the diamond smuggling operation.
    • Another James Bond example occurs during the opening of Die Another Day.
    • A villainous example occurs when Red Grant takes the place of Bond's Orient Express contact in From Russia with Love.
  • In Ultraviolet Violet impersonates a courier in order to get inside the Archminstry's headquarters and steal the weapon that will wipe out the hemophages.
  • This is how Connor MacManus gets the info over the phone for where the Russian mob dudes in The Boondock Saints are meeting. It helps that both he and Murphy are fluent in Russian, and could conceivably pass themselves off as members of the Russian mob if they had to.
  • In Stroker Ace, Doc poses as a representative of the Miller Brewing Company and meets with Clyde Torkle to convince him that Miller will buy Torkle's franchise so long as he fires Stroker. Torkle is taken due to Doc's acting courses making him sound legit and never having been contacted by Miller before.
  • The whole plot of The Adventures of Tartu is Terence passing as the deceased Tartu in order to infiltrate a Nazi gas plant.


  • Done in almost all possible ways (from stolen uniforms to magical transformations) in The Black Company series. Gambit Pileup is the typical result.
  • The Executioner series. Mack Bolan would sometimes infiltrate Mafia organizations by masquerading as an elite hitman. He did so by displaying an ace of spades, which they used to identify themselves.
  • Done in Harald, when Mord hires Westkin mercenaries as soldiers to assassinate King James, who has outlived his usefulness, Harald gets his own Westkin allies to impersonate them.
  • A beautiful inversion occurs in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk". The titular client obtained a job at a bank, but had never met his employer. Another man convinced the clerk to drop the job without a resignation letter; he then turned up in his stead and robbed the bank.
  • A villainous example occurs in the Lord Peter Wimsey short story "The Bibulous Business Of a Matter of Taste', where two Lord Peters show up to receive secret information from a person who then holds a wine-tasting to determine which is the real Lord Peter. Neither are, but the real Lord Peter, there in disguise, is proven anyway.
  • The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign has a villainous example where the White Queen impersonates Aoi, the person who Kyousuke was planning on binding a contract with. Though it turns out that Kyousuke figures it out early on, and deliberately led the White Queen around until he had what he needed.

     Live Action TV  

  • Mission: Impossible. This was sometimes used in IMF operations.
  • Jack Bauer attempts this twice throughout the shows run. In both instances, a suspect is killed before Jack can get any info out of them, but Jack improvises when their phone rings, and gets a meeting location where he continues the guise.
  • Christopher Chance successfully pulls this off in "Taking Ames".
    • In another episode, to protect a woman he believed was being targeted, he posed as online date. However, the real date shows up, blowing Chances cover. The "real date" is revealed to be the assassin hired to kill the woman, but luckly, Chance saves her.
  • Chuck pulls this off in "Chuck vs the Fake Name" by taking an assassins indentity to find out who the ring wants to kill.
    • There was a similar plot in Monk. Even more coincidental since one of the mobsters was played by the same actor who played a mobster in that episode of Chuck.
  • Angel pulls one of these in the Season 2 episode "The Shroud of Rahmon," impersonating a hip Vegas vampire to infiltrate a group of thieves.
  • Villain example in Heroes. Sylar kills Zane Taylor, steals his power, and passes himself off as him to Mohinder.
  • NCIS - Tony and Ziva pose as an assassin couple in order to sniff out who they were taking orders from.
  • Happened in an episode of the new Knight Rider.
  • In Jake 2.0, Jake infiltrates a meeting of a group of hackers (who had previously only communicated online) by impersonating a group member who has been arrested by the NSA.
  • The Cape: Vince poses as the bomber Razer as a way to spy on Scales.
  • On Charmed, an assassin tries to kill the sisters, only to be killed by Prue. She then impersonates the assassin to meet her client, who had apparently never met the assassin in person before.
  • Jarod does a few of these over the course of The Pretender
    • The first involved Jarod posing as a hitman. Jarod was walking past the hitman's hotel room when the man collapsed inside, and went to try and help him. When the man died, Jarod went through his belongings and discovered his profession - then his phone rang. It was the hitman's client, and Jarod took his place at the meeting.
    • A second episode had Jarod overhear a conversation between a former crook trying to go straight and his former employer who wants him to do One Last Job. There is one more person slated to be part of the team, a one-armed safe cracker scheduled to arrive by bus. Jarod intercepts the safe cracker, tells him the police are onto him, takes his tools, gives him a wad of money and sends him to a new target the Centre. He then takes the safe cracker's place on the robbery team.
  • In one episode of Starsky & Hutch, Hutch impersonates a reclusive hitman who has just been taken into custody. This goes wrong when the hitman escapes and shows up at the meeting...
  • Stargate SG-1 uses this when Mitchell goes undercover as Kefflin,a lieutenant in the Lucian Alliance (a group of drug smugglers) who are believed to have captured one of Earth's ships (along with Colonel Carter.) Mitchell uses a chemical compound on the one person who knows Kefflin looks like and counts on no one else having ever seen him since he has a reputation as a recluse.


  • In Dragnet, the plot of #72, "The Big Meet", involves Friday impersonating the local contact that a major drug lord plans to use to distribute a batch of his product through.

     Video Games  

  • In Metal Gear Solid 3, Eva isn't really your contact.
    • Also in Snake Eater, Snake impersonates Major Raikov in order to get to the west wing of Grozni Grad.
  • The Dark Brotherhood quest chain in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim requires you to murder and impersonate The Gourmet, Tamriel's greatest - and most secretive - chef, in order to get close to your ultimate target, the emperor. It helps that no one actually knows what The Gourmet looks like (with the exception of the one guy you interrogated for The Gourmet's location, and subsequently killed to cover your tracks), so you can look and dress and act like anything you want.


  • Rather humorously averted in DOUBLE K - having just raided a drug dealer's warehouse, Kamina notices the suspect's portable phone ringing and answers it. When the guy on the other end assumes that he's talking to the dealer as normal, well... in the author's own words, "True to form, Kamina immediately pisses away any usefulness this development may have brought." Explosions ensue.
  • Magick Chicks: Following the school's takeover, in chapter 16, The Ninja Club are revealed to be that last holdouts, in terms of opposition. They've even managed to capture Skye and replaced her with Rain, in order to spy on Cerise and undermine her authority.

     Western Animation  

  • Gloriously played in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Almost Got 'Im", where Killer Croc, of all people, turns out to have been Batman the whole time.

     Real Life  

  • Two FBI agents were able to stop a bomb plot in Portland by impersonating the would-be bombers' online contacts.