It’s not easy to fake your own death in 2019 Australia. There are numerous things that can trip you up, from faulty planning to lack of evidence that you died.
As private investigators, we are often involved with skip tracing. This means finding people who have intentionally disappeared or “skipped town”.
We use a huge number of different methods to track people down in skip tracing. Sometimes it’s quite easy – just a name here, an old address there, and a bit of detective work. Sometimes it’s a lot harder and we have to dig deep to find connections.
But what about when someone goes to extremes and fakes their own death? How hard is it to successfully pull off a faked death in 2019?
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Why do people fake their own death?
There are as many different reasons for faking one’s own death as there are people on the planet. But it often boils down to one thing: escape. People who try to fake their own death are often running away from something.
- Escaping from debt
- Running away from failing work, family or love life they can’t bear
- Trying to escape criminal prosecution
- Hiding from someone who wants to do them harm, perhaps due to involvement in crime
Other reasons include mental illness and attempting to cash in on life insurance.
And it’s possible to disappear without faking your own death. People skip town all the time. Maybe they owe someone money and it’s easier to just walk away and start again in a new state. At Melbourne Investigations we regularly track down people who have deliberately gone missing.
Is it illegal?
But is it illegal to fake your own death? Well, not directly. There are no laws we know of in Australia that specifically prevent one from pretending to have died.
But trying to truly pull off a faked death involves plenty of illegal deception. If you pretend to be dead, you will be committing crimes like fraud or evading taxes or debt payments. If you convince someone else to help cover for you, you’ll be asking them to file a false police report.
Trying to fake your own death is very likely to put you in legal trouble. Not to mention the pain you would have caused your loved ones. So don’t do it!
But if you did try… how hard would it be?
Faking your own death is hard because it requires planning
Some people who fake their own death almost seem to be flying by the seat of their pants. One example is the case of Scott Beynon.
An unplanned faked death that didn’t work
Scott was a former Australian Federal Police agent who fell into depression. Sadly, Scott planned to end his own life.
One day Beynon drove to Torquay Beach, Victoria and swam out to sea. He wanted to drown. But thankfully Scott panicked and decided not to die that day. He swam back to shore.
But he didn’t seek help in his crisis. Instead Scott left his car at the beach and went to Hobart. His frantic wife called the police. His car was found at the beach, and soon a search was under way for Scott’s body.
It didn’t take long for Scott’s adventure to fall apart. Because he hadn’t planned his faked death, Beynon wasn’t able to successfully go into hiding or leave the country. He had no money to travel to New Zealand under the radar as he wished. So Scott tried to rob an Australia Post shop at knife point. He was tackled by passers by and taken into custody. Scott had been able to fake his own death for only 29 days.
Faking your death is tricky because there’s no body
Freank Ahearn is a skip tracer and author of “How to Disappear: Erase your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trails, and Vanish without A Trace“. According to Frank, one obstacle to successfully faking a death is that there is no proof. With no body, or no clear evidence of death, police may believe there was in fact no death.
If somebody dies by accident, murder or suicide, a body is usually recovered. Drowning victims are often at least partially recovered, and accident victims are usually found right where the tragedy occurred. There is usually something to find. For a person to vanish entirely means the police may suspect either foul play, or fraud.
In the case of Scott Beynon, his unplanned faked death didn’t add up. His clothes were left in a place unusual for swimmers. There was no swell and visibility was good. And if Beynon had been the victim of a shark attack, even that usually leaves some remains.
If you disappear and leave no body, police are most likely to assume that you have indeed disappeared rather than simply died. They may suspect foul play, or they may suspect you have skipped town. But it’s unlikely they’ll think you died, only to vanish without a trace.
Your digital footprint makes it harder to fake your own death
How much of your life is stored somewhere on computers? We’re not just talking about Facebook. Nearly all aspects of your life are now stored electronically by government and private institutions. And it’s incredibly hard to hide or make a clean break from your digital footprint to fake your death.
- Bank accounts, credit cards and transactions
- Loans and mortgages
- Schooling and university
- Medicare and hospital records
All these things and more are stored on government and corporate databases. To fake your own death means suddenly and totally cutting off all interaction with these data sources.
Think about it. No more doctor visits. No topping up your travel card. No bank withdrawals. Just one slip up and the police will know you didn’t accidentally die and vanish when hiking in the desert. You can’t even prepare to fake your death by withdrawing your money beforehand – that would be a dead giveaway.
How would you even live?
Believe it or not, it can be done.
There are professional death fakers
It isn’t just in thrillers and spy movies. There really are people you can pay to fake your death, scrub your tracks clean, and set you up in a new life.
Our near neighbour the Philippines is a hub for fake death merchants. It’s illegal and gruesome but it exists. The clients of this industry are often people trying to falsely claim on life insurance.
Elizabeth Greenwood wrote “Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud“. She travelled to the Philippines to investigate the fake death industry.
Greenwood discovered that for around $1000 you can buy your own fake death. You will receive a kit of documents and a death certificate to “prove” you died. As part of her investigation, Greenwood was provided with a fake death certificate and false witness accounts of her “fatal” car accident. Apparently, it was quite easy.
She also learned that people wanting to commit life insurance fraud will pay more for the deluxe service. This involves buying a genuine stand-in corpse to “prove” death. The body will likely be one of the many unidentified homeless people who end up in Philippines morgues.
There are also expensive privacy fixers who will scrub your trail clean as you begin your new life, with a new identity.
It always comes back to human connections
There are plenty of organisational problems to overcome if you want to fake your own death. But the hardest one to deal with is emotional. We humans find it incredibly hard to completely and finally sever all ties with our past lives.
It could be a seemingly small thing that trips you up.
Someone could recognise you if you risk living too close to your old home. Your behaviour leading up to the event might look unnatural. Or maybe you can’t completely let go of your real name.
Petra Pazsitka managed to disappear inside Germany for 31 years. She vanished without a trace, and police suspected murder. Their suspect eventually even confessed to the crime! But 31 years later, Petra let her real identity slip to police.
It’s really hard to fake your own death successfully, because it’s really hard to avoid being human.