There is no law in the United States that prohibits a person from faking their death. However, if you do plan on living after you “die”, you are bound to commit fraud. And fraud is definitely illegal.
Elizabeth Greenwood explores the world of death fraud, officially termed “pseudocide”, in her book Playing Dead. She investigates the people who commit it, why they do it, and how they do it. Approximately several hundred people per year commit pseudocide, or rather, are caught doing so. “The paradox is, if you fake your death successfully, you are presumed dead, so we only know about the people who mess it up down the line,” Greenwood explains.
Greenwood got the idea to write Playing Dead after her own student loan debt began piling up. Though she never seriously considered pseudocide, she did get pretty far into the process. Greenwood flew to the Philippines, a country with a strong underground infrastructure for fraud. There, she was able to obtain a “death kit” which consists of a death certificate, a police report detailing her “fatal” accident, and documented eyewitness statements.
Student loan debt is not a common reason for people to fake their deaths—at least not yet. The majority of pseudocide cases involve people who have engaged in criminal activity, or are in debt for millions or more. A common mistake these people make is their desire to reintegrate back into their old lives. “If you want to call your mom on her birthday, there’s going to be someone watching your mom on her birthday to see if you make that call,” Greenwood says.
To get away with this façade, you have to fully commit to a life off the grid.
Greenwood notes that Playing Dead is not a guide to faking your own death. It is, however, an interesting look into a world not known to many. Watch the interview here to learn more.