Is Faking Your Own Death a Crime?

Faking your own death is not itself a crime, but you're bound to enter murky legal waters.
Faking your own death is not itself a crime, but you're bound to enter murky legal waters. (Image credit: Image via Shutterstock)

Raymond Roth, a 47-year-old man living in Massapequa, N.Y., was arrested Wednesday (Aug. 15) on suspicion that he faked his own drowning at a New York beach in order to collect more than $400,000 in life insurance. Roth was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy and filing a false report. But what if he hadn't been doing it for the money? Is merely faking your own death a crime?

The short answer is no. If you hate your life, you're technically allowed to contrive a departure from it.

"I am unaware of any federal statute that would apply to an individual who fakes their own death," FBI spokesman Bill Carter told Life's Little Mysteries. 

In fact, according to missing person search-and-rescue expert Jeff Hasse, president of the Minnesota-based company Midwest Technical Rescue Training Associates, the right to disappear often causes conflicts between families of missing persons and law-enforcement agencies. Families think police investigators should do more to search for their missing loved one. "Law enforcement's response is, 'He's an adult. He can go missing if he wants to,'" Hasse told Life's Little Mysteries. If there's no evidence of foul play involved, sheriffs may not pursue a missing adult.

However, despite having the right to vanish without a trace or fake your own death, it's almost impossible to do so without eventually breaking a few laws.

"Pseudocide (faking one's own suicide) isn't inherently a crime," said James Quiggle, director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud in Washington, D.C. "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.

"You may be stealing life insurance," Quiggle continued. "Or your spouse is part of the con and files a false police report. You're also avoiding a large variety of taxes, and defrauding lenders of your home and car. Then when you resurface with a new identity, you're defrauding every government agency that processes your new identity — and old identity. And you're defrauding new lenders if you buy a house or car under your new identity."

The criminal charges quickly stack up. Of course, you'll only find yourself in handcuffs if you are found out.

This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover or Life's Little Mysteries @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Natalie Wolchover

Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.