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Bogus death for big bucks: 7 dumbest mistakes

Thursday, 17 Oct 2013 | 11:10 AM ET
Image Source | Getty Images

For years, faking your own death has been an escape scheme of the desperate and a get-rich scam of the foolish. Some scammers hope to get rich quick on life insurance fraud; others try to escape the law when their other schemes go wrong. CNBC Prime's "American Greed: The Fugitives" reports on one of the latter: Aubry Lee Price, a preacher turned day-trader, defrauded investors out of millions, then allegedly faked his own death by disappearing off a Key West ferry. Although Florida issued a death certificate, the FBI suspects that Price is still alive.

But insurance companies have wised up, according to Dennis Jay, spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. Not only do they investigate suspicious life insurance claims vigorously; they also find that it's hard for people to stay off the grid year after year. Here are some of the dumbest ways that the bogus "dead" have resurfaced and gotten caught.

1. Don't use a corpse of the opposite sex

Molly and Clayton Daniels faked Clayton's death to keep him out of jail and to collect on his $110,000 life insurance policy. They dug up a corpse, dressed it in Clayton's clothes, then burned it in a car crash. However, DNA testing revealed that the corpse was female.

(Read more: Male, rich, smart? Get ready for fraud)

2. Don't claim your life insurance before you're dead

After Los Angeles resident Raul Pero "died" in his native Chile, his bereaved roommate Gloria Alcaraz called one of his six life insurers, West Coast Life, to claim the death benefit. Only trouble was, Alcaraz called West Coast Life one day before Pero's Chilean death certificate was issued.

3. Don't write a best-seller after you're dead

After Brit Philip Sessarago faked his own death and changed his name to Tom Carew, he wrote the popular book Jihad! and was recognized while being interviewed on television.

4. Don't think of DWD: driving while dead

Less than a month after Long Island man Raymond Roth, with the help of his son Jonathan, faked his own death with the help of his son Jonathan, to collect on life insurance, Roth was caught speeding in Santee, S.C.

(Read more: Worst 10 states for mortgage fraud)

5. Remember you're not the "Walking Dead"

A one-time millionaire, Australian businessman Harry Gordon was doing pretty well maintaining the fiction that he was dead … until he ran into his brother hiking popular Mount Maunganui in Tauranga, New Zealand. His brother persuaded Gordon's "widow" to go to the police.

6. Don't leave your fingerprints on your own death certificate

Maybe he blew it when he called the life insurance company pretending to be his wife, but the fingerprints were a dead giveaway. Briton Anthony McErlean, who faked being killed by a truck in Honduras, was arrested for fraud after police found his fingerprints on his own bogus death certificate.

7. Don't go to the doctor after you're dead

After getting his fake death certificate from Afghanistan, even after his ex-wife claimed 300,000 pounds in life insurance, Ahmad Akhtary continued to live, work and pay taxes in Gloucester, England—under his own name. The couple got pinched six months into the fraud, after Akhtary visited his doctor.

—By Celia Seupel, Special to CNBC.

CNBC follows the money trail in search of the most wanted white-collar fugitives."American Greed: The Fugitives" airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. EDT/PDT.

Contact American Greed: The Fugitives

  • "American Greed" is narrated by Stacy Keach. The award-winning actor of stage, film and television is well-known for his portrayals of Detective Mike Hammer and Ernest Hemingway, for which he won a Best Actor Golden Globe.