Has the sky ever come crashing down all around you? Have you ever wanted to fake your own death? According to the movies, faking your death is easy, and you can get away with it!
Welcome to reality – faking your death is an enormous endeavor. Doing so demands great ambition requiring tireless planning and preparation. The psychological toll can be significant. Also, sorry to deflate your dreams, getting away with this deed is challenging.
Private investigator Steve Rambam, CEO of licensed investigation agency Pallorium, Inc., has looked into about 800 faked death cases over his 40-year career. Describing the challenge, Rambam said, “Every day, it gets harder and harder. Every day, there are more data points to finding someone. Ten years ago, facial recognition was just beginning. Now it’s an integral part of just about every investigation I do. Fifteen years ago… [most] hackers didn’t know about cell phone tracking yet. Now it’s routine. It’s mundane.”
Knowledge gained from films also tells you that most people who fake their deaths do so to avoid danger – like from a jealous husband, or the mob. Yet this is rare, with the usual reason being, as per Rambam, “Money, money, money. Absolutely outrageous greed.”
Further, those who fake their own death “skew towards the more affluent,” says Chelsea Binns, Assistant Professor of the Department of Security, Fire and Emergency of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s really not cheap to pull this off. But the more wealthy the person is, the more suspicious investigators will be,” says Binns.
In addition, Rambam says many cases are committed by people born and raised overseas who can create legitimate wealth, thus being able to purchase a considerable life insurance policy. Fortunately, getting away with insurance fraud is getting harder. As Rambam says, “Every day, it gets harder and harder. Every day, there are more data points to finding someone. Ten years ago, facial recognition was just beginning. Now it’s an integral part of just about every investigation I do. Fifteen years ago… [most] hackers didn’t know about cell phone tracking yet. Now it’s routine. It’s mundane.”
Fraud takes a lot of work, time, and money, and it takes a toll on your mental health. According to Binns, “[Faking your death] completely cuts you off from the world forever. It’s like going into the witness protection program.”
Rambam explains, “You cannot make one mistake. You have an elderly mother in ill health? She’s going to die without you at her bedside. A wonderful young daughter graduating junior high? A son playing his first football game? You’re going to miss all of that. You cannot see people you care about ever again. You have to abandon your dog because a lot of times, the dog will have a chip, and that’s trackable. I have to tell you: There are people who can’t give up their dog or their cat, but they can give up their wife and kids, and many have been caught that way.”
Living in the digital age provides access to the World Wide Web, making resources for investigating insurance fraud only a mouse click away. “Twenty years ago, this was a lot easier to pull off,” says Binns.