NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Crushing debt, inescapable legal problems, or the lure of a life insurance payout are all extreme circumstances that could make a person want to end it all.
But what if there were a way to “die,” but still live on?
“I need to just disappear, slip through the cracks, never be heard from again,” author Elizabeth Greenwood said.
As CBS2’s Kristine Johnson reported, Greenwood — overwhelmed with student loans and a life she said was stagnating — considered the ultimate out.
“When you fake your death you have to go all the way. There’s nothing you can bring with you, not your boyfriend, not your girlfriend, not your pet, nothing,” she said.
It’s called pseudo-cide, and it’s proved to be more popular than some believe.
“I went home and did a quick Google search, ‘Fake your own death,’ and this entire world appeared before my eyes,” Greenwood said.
Greenwood’s own journey in the world of the death hoax is played out in ‘Playing Dead.’
“I think as I went further and further along in the process, interviewing these characters, it became quite clear to me that this really wasn’t my answer,” she said.
Greenwood came face-to-face with some high profile death hoaxers like financier Steve Israel who tried to dodge a long jail term for defrauding investors, and Long Island father and son team Raymond and Jonathan Roth who were looking for a fat insurance payout.
Their plots failed.
Israel and the senior Roth are still in jail. Jonathan Roth was released after a year.
“It’s the after the fact that can be dangerous or risky,” privacy consultant Frank Ahearn explained.
Ahearn’s specialty is helping people disappear.
“I have a thing called the fluke factor — it’s the thing you never know. It’s who’s around the corner, who do you run into, you walk into a hotel, there’s cameras there, you’re driving through toll booths there’s a camera,” he said.
Olivia Newton John’s former boyfriend disappeared from a fishing boat and was presumed dead.
“He just got fed up with his life and he went to Mexico,” Ahearn said.
Discovered very much alive, he’s facing legal scrutiny for the insurance payout to his son.
Water is a popular medium for pseudo-ciders, but according to Ahearn and Greenwood it’s far from foolproof.
“If you want to make it seem like you plunged from a bridge, in certain cases they have dredged reservoirs to look for a body,” Greenwood said.
She even held her own counterfeit death certificate in her hands.
“It was this chill that came over me,” Greenwood recalled.
Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who said living a false identity can be fraught with anxiety.
“I think of it as hashtag human insensitivity, because what about all these people who have counted on you, and relied on you, who you are now turning your back on completely,” she said.
For Greenwood, the closer she got to ‘dying’ the easier it came to back away, saying that even with a fake death certificate she was ’99 percent certain’ she wouldn’t go through with it.
As far as the legality of faking your own death — filing false documents, and insurance fraud are just a few of the charges that can be filed.