Elizabeth Greenwood incurred over $100,000 in student loan debt. One evening, she was lamenting over her situation with a friend when they discussed how to fake her own death. It was that very night that Greenwood utilized Google to see if she could actually pretend she was no longer in the land of the living. Her objective took years. Greenwood told the New York Post, “It became very clear to me that I had stumbled into a bizarre underworld made up of people with forbidden knowledge and those seeking it. And while my intention to fake my death might not have been as earnest … I had definitely become a seeker as well.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, there is $1.31 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. In fact, some companies can be on the hook for employees who have student loan debt. This is if they do not process a wage-garnishment order in time to meet state law requirements. In addition, the Department of Education states that during the last quarter of 2015, over $176 million in wages were garnished from borrowers who had defaulted on their loan payment.
Greenwood is just one of many who had mounting student loan debt issues without a way to handle them. She wanted to see if it could actually be done. Moreover, it provided the inspiration for her new book, “Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud” (Simon & Schuster). She began by obtaining a death certificate on the Philippine stating she was in a fatal car crash in Manila on July 2, 2013. Greenwood was still alive and living in Brooklyn at the time. The Columbia University adjunct professor also searched for people who have gone through the death faking experience.
She found a Filipino-American businessman who was fatally stabbed in a coin-toss game in Manila in 2001. She changed his name in her book. His wife flew from LA to identify his body. There was a funeral with a priest, a grieving wife and a cremated body that was sent back to the U.S. The wife then tried to cash in six policy purchases. Insurance companies often wait seven years to release policy money without a death certificate. The couple produced a body instead. It turns out, the corpse was someone else.
Greenwood discovered that in almost any developing country, you can easily go into a morgue and claim a dead body as one of your relatives. Morgues are often pleased to get the body out of their facilities. Sam Israel III was set to serve a 22-year prison sentence in 2008 for a $450 million hedge fund fraud. He left his SUV on a Hudson River bridge with a note that read, “Suicide is Painless.” A month later, he was found living in an RV in Southwick, Mass. Greenwood once believed that faking her own death could help alleviate her student loan debt.
According to Daniel Pianko, “If student debt continues to skyrocket, the federal government may have to deal with as much as a $500 billion write-down when future defaults and loan-forgiveness programs are factored in.” In the end, Greenwood decided not to go through with her plan. She did have her fake death certificate, but she never used it. First, she didn’t want to break her mom’s heart. Second, she believed that her student loan debt interest would continue to increase despite her departure from life. As a result, she wrote her book to share her story of the extent some will go to get out of seemingly insurmountable issues.