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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud

I read a blurb about Elizabeth Greenwood's Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud in Entertainment Weekly, and I'm always looking for offbeat and interesting works of non-fiction, so I checked this out from the library recently.

Faking your own death is a fascinating way of going about escaping your life -- if that's what you're interested in. In this nonfiction piece, Greenwood looks at the art of death fraud from several different perspectives, including those who commit it, those who have been found out, and those who have been affected by it. How would one go about committing death fraud? Who are the types of people who get caught? What is it like to be the child of someone who faked their death? What is the best way to go about doing this? Greenwood's fascinatios starts from the frustration with debt, specifically student loans, but ends having done a full-scale examination of this process that is both fascinating and surprisingly not entirely illegal. If you do it right.

I can't remember what attracted me to this book at first, but I'm so glad I ended up picking it up. It was a truly fascinating look at something that I had never considered. Faking my own death? No thanks, I like my life too much. However, I can understand Greenwood's point in her over-reliance upon loaned money to be able to get herself ahead. She also points out in her first chapter that a lot of those guilty of committing this type of fraud end up doing it to escape jail sentences, most often for the mishandling of other people's money. Which begs the question of, why did you bother to commit financial fraud if you just gonna end up faking your own death? She also points out from her research that faking one's own death in and of itself is not illegal, as long as you're not trying to cheat the insurance companies or commit other types of financial fraud. She speaks with a few experts in disappearing and comes to the conclusion that if you want to disappear, you can do it – there's really no need to set up an elaborate scheme of pretending that you have died.

Greenwood tells the stories of a few of these people who have committed fraud, and many who got away with it for some time. Often how they get caught are simple, small things – you have a broken taillight but you don't have a new piece of ID or that identification is not real enough. Sometimes you ask for too much money in your insurance policy. A lot of times, however, many people just turn themselves in so as to not live with the guilt. It's all terribly interesting. However, the chapter that looked at the children of those who have faked their own death was particularly sad. One of the stories Greenwood tells is about a young man of 8 years old whose father told him about his plot. The child had to pretend that he didn't know the truth with his mother and his sister, and he had to keep that secret until his father was caught not long after. Another young man who was in his late teens helped his father with the death-faking. Yet another \woman found out in her 40's that her father had faked his death when she was a child. That was heartbreaking – the damage that was wrought upon this woman, thinking her whole life that her father was dead -- only to find out that he was alive up until a year before she discovered the truth.

Ultimately what Greenwood discovers is that it's not worth faking your own death to get out of whatever pickle you were in. You have to leave behind everything that you love, because if you don't, that will be sure to undo you. You have to walk away from your entire life, people and things and money and your favorite pizza place. Every single thing. Through writing this book, she discovered that, no matter how hard things are financially, it's not worth NOT living your life to escape financial hardship.

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