His audacity didn't end there. He became a high-profile political donor, at one point gaining enough access to be photographed with former President George W. Bush. All this was possible through the criminal practice of "identity cloning."
Identity theft, which involves draining someone's bank account and maxing out their credit cards, is a familiar crime to many people, and according to expert Robert Siciliano, it's typically a "one-shot deal" motivated by financial gain that lasts only until the victim finds out what's going on. Identity cloning, on the other hand, involves assuming another's identity, often without the victim finding out.
"[Criminals] live and function as an individual on purpose, often to evade law enforcement," he said, likening it to a criminal's "own form of witness protection." These criminals live fully functioning lives with relative normalcy, maintain lines of credit, open bank accounts and pay bills, Siciliano said. They can hide in plain sight and stay undercover without living in seclusion, he said.
"I guarantee you right now that there are people in this country and Canada that have been living and functioning as others, and have been doing it for more than half their lives," Siciliano said.
In 2010, The Globe and Mail in Toronto reported that the identity of a Canadian man named Donald Fiedler had been in use by an identity cloner for more than a decade. This provided a nasty shock for the real Donald Fiedler, who applied for a passport only to be told that he already had one. The imposter pleaded guilty and said that his name was Peter Michael Filitz, but because he was such a capable cloner, prosecutors were unable to verify that this was actually his name.
Catching these imposters is a complicated process that involves doing police work in reverse. Bill Boldin and a team of U.S. Marshals were tasked with tracking down Bobby Thompson, and the process was convoluted, to say the least.
"Normally when we get a fugitive case, a police agency comes to us and says, 'Go find this person,'" Boldin told CNBC's "American Greed." "Well, in this case they said, 'Go find a person. We don't know who he is.'"