If you thought Leonardo DiCaprio’s con-artist character in the movie, Catch Me If You Can, was far-fetched – think again. Here, we take a look at five individuals who successfully masqueraded as qualified doctors.

1. William Hamman

William Hamman was a pilot for the United Airlines – but passed himself off as an accomplished cardiologist with 15 years of experience and would also attend and give speeches at medical conventions, coaching doctors on issues such as patient safety. 

His fraudulent stunt came to a halt when he applied for a grant. The committee probed his credentials and revealed that he never was a doctor – only a dropout from medical school. Fortunately, there is no evidence that he put any patients directly at risk.

He was grounded by United Airlines but interestingly, the American Medical Association still allowed him to conduct seminars - but as a “Captain” and not a “Doctor”.

2. Gerald Barnbaum

Having had his licence as a pharmacist revoked due to medical fraud, Gerald Barnbaum assumed the name of a practicing orthopaedic surgeon, Gerald Barnes, and got a job as a physician at the Pacific Southwest Medical Group in California.

His deceptive act went unnoticed for over a year until the death of a 29-year-old patient, John Alfred Mckenzie, who consulted Barnbaum but died from complications related to diabetes.

Barnbaum was imprisoned for 18 months on the charge of involuntary manslaughter, and was arrested twice more after his release for identity theft and practising without a proper medical licence.

After his release, he continued his masquerade, but was arrested and sentenced to 10 years for mail fraud. His sentence will end in 2018.

3. Mo Man-yip

In 2015, the 24-year-old financial investment agent put on a white coat and asked to treat patients at the United Christian Hospital in Hong Kong.

Noticing that he looked unfamiliar, the ward manager refused his request but an hour later, Mo had already started performing a medical check for a patient. Hospital security was alerted, but the determined imposter returned to the hospital two days later.

This time, the police were informed and he was promptly arrested.

"Under caution, the defendant admitted the offence and claimed he was studying a medical course in Australia, but he failed the course,” said Magistrate Ronald Cheung.

“He admired the doctors' work very much and thus impersonated a doctor."

4. Balaji Varatharaju

For nine months, the 29-year-old dropout from Adelaide University used a forged degree to treat nearly 400 patients at the Alice Springs Hospital where he masqueraded as a junior doctor.

After senior doctors raised concerns over his inadequate clinical knowledge and lack of clinical skills, the medical board investigated and revealed that he had, in truth, been expelled from medical school after he was caught committing dishonest acts of forgery.

According to Justice Blokland, the Singaporean man came from a high-achieving family, but was overwhelmed and suffered from depression and bipolar disorder.

"You were motivated in your fraudulent activity to help people in the community rather than hurt anyone,” said Justice Blokland.

"That altruism needs to be moderated."

He was sentenced to two years of prison for his fraudulent act.

5.  Ernest Addo

Ernest Addo worked as a physician at Agape Senior Primary Care and within a span of six months, had seen more than 500 patients at nursing homes in Georgia and South Carolina.

One day, in August 2012, Addo received a phone call from the wife of a friend regarding a credit card bill, and was forced to admit that he had used her husband’s identity to practice as a physician.

Throughout his six months of “clinical practice”, there had been no complaints. Addo was able to practice medicine without suspicion as he had attended a medical school in Belize, though authorities could not confirm if he was certified by the medical board.

He pleaded guilty to identity theft for committing healthcare fraud, and was sentenced to two years in prison. MIMS

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