Is It Illegal to Fake Your Own Death?

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Pseudocide—faking your own death—is not technically illegal. However, to fake your own death, you’d most likely need to break several laws.

“Pseudocide isn't inherently a crime … but it involves so many built-in frauds that it's virtually impossible to legally fake your drowning. Frankly, you'll only be drowning in fraud,” James Quiggle, the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud’s director of communications, told Live Science in 2012.

Why go to the trouble of faking your own death? People may commit pseudocide so they can collect life insurance money, evade outstanding arrest warrants, get out of paying off school, car, or home loans, or simply start over with a new identity, leaving behind their problems with relationships or work.

Although no federal or state statutes ban pseudocide, someone who fakes his or her death may commit crimes such as conspiracy, fraudulently collecting life insurance money, evading taxes, having a spouse file a false police report, forging a death certificate, or delinquency on loan payments.

And although someone can technically pull off pseudocide without breaking the law, he or she won’t be able to legally establish a new identity in the United States. Government agencies like the Social Security Administration and the DMV, as well as companies like banks and mortgage lenders, require valid proof of your identity. If you’re using a false identity, you’re committing fraud.

Author Elizabeth Greenwood explores pseudocide and the disappearance industry in her upcoming book Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud. Greenwood describes both sides of the equation, including consultants who can help people “disappear,” as well as private detectives who investigate people suspected of faking their own deaths in order to make false claims. Death and taxes, it seems, have more in common than simple inevitability—there's also plenty of money involved in both.