Five insane life insurance scam stories

How some famous frauds from the past informed our future.

When we think of life insurance, we might think one of two things: one, it’s a great way to protect your family in the event of your untimely demise, or two, stories of people who try to scam life insurance companies for the payout. If your mind went to the latter, you’re not alone since many find these tales of deceit enticing. And even Hollywood has brought those types of stories to the big and small screen (check out the 1944 film Double Indemnity). The reality is that these stories aren’t just in the movies or on TV, a lot of life insurance scams have happened IRL. So, let’s go on a journey and read about five famous scams.

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Suicide scammer 

In 2012, Aaron Travis Beaird was able to scam a bunch of clients, amassing a total of six million dollars over 10 years. He worked at a Seattle-based life insurance firm and, under the tutelage of an experienced salesman, was able to gain the trust of clients who were mostly friends and family of modest means. He proceeded to lie to his clients using fake documents, and in 2011, faked a client’s death to redirect funds to himself—but this last con was caught during a routine claims check. As a result of being caught, Beaird faked his death and fled to Scotland. He returned to Seattle the following week where he, surprisingly, confessed in full to the FBI. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

A macabre love story

In this twisted tale, Leander, Texas couple Clay and Molly Daniels thought they came up with the perfect way to gain money via life insurance fraud. 81-year-old Charlotte Davis passed away in 2003, so the couple thought she’d be the perfect victim for their plan. They dug up her corpse and then, on June 18, 2004, placed her body in a Chevrolet Cavalier, pushed it off the road, and set the car ablaze. They thought they got away with the despicable deed until forensic files found Clay’s belongings in the car along with DNA from Miss Davis. They were subsequently charged and found guilty of insurance fraud, arson, desecration of a cemetery, among other things. Clay is serving 30 years in prison while Molly is serving 20.

Double claims, double crimes 

In 2005, Anthony McErlean impersonated his wife by filing a life insurance claim stating he had died in Honduras after being hit by a cabbage truck. The insurance company became suspicious and submitted the paperwork to police, who found McErlean’s fingerprints on the death certificate. He was charged with six years in prison and his wife was also charged for being complicit.

An infographic outlining five life insurance fraud schemes with the date and attempted fraud amount.

McErlean’s story doesn’t end there. In 2016 he was able to gain the trust, and the power of attorney, over George Manwill. He sold Mr. Manwill’s home for £800,000 and tried to purchase a sapphire necklace and an Audi. The police had been monitoring McErlean’s bank account and were able to stop the sale as well as money going into his account. He was arrested at Mr. Manwill’s home and was charged with five years in prison.

A skilled scammer

Over many years, an LA mortician became a mastermind of faking deaths. She even had several accomplices to help her with life insurance scams. Jean Crump faked the death of a non-existent person named “Jim Davis”. She created a false death certificate, bought a grave plot, staged a funeral, and filled the casket with several items, including a mannequin and cow bones, before it went to the crematorium. After two life insurance companies became suspicious, she reported to the county that “Mr. Davis’” had died of a heart attack and his remains were scattered at sea. Crump and her accomplices also reported the cremation of Arkansas resident Laura Urich, though she had died years prior. All in all, Crump and her cohorts sought millions of dollars through life insurance fraud and were able to steal approximately $315,000, which was then set as restitution payment, which is the penalty Crump paid back to the victims. She was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

The case of the feline fraud 

Technically this one is actually auto insurance fraud, but it does involve death and a cat so we couldn’t help ourselves. In 2009, Yevgeniy M. Samsonov was involved in a minor fender-bender and received almost $3500 from the other driver’s insurance. Apparently that was not enough of a reward, because over two years later he filed another claim seeking $20,000 for his pet cat Tom who, according to him, had also tragically died in the accident. The insurance company had initially paid him $50 for Tom, but Samsonov insisted that Tom was like a son to him, and he had paid $1000 to buy the cat, so he deserved to be awarded the amount he requested. To try to convince the insurance company, he sent in two photos of a white cat with blue eyes claiming it was his deceased cat. Upon further investigation, it turned out the photos were actually all taken from Google images and Samsonov had never owned a cat at all. He was charged with first-degree attempted theft and felony insurance fraud.

Conclusion

Though these stories might be entertaining reads, the truth is many lives were affected by the criminal acts of these life insurance scam artists. People lost money and trust in those they thought were looking out for them. Others had to relive the death of a loved one. Luckily, life insurance companies and law enforcement were able to catch these deceivers despite the fact that many got away with their scams for years.

When buying a life insurance plan, make sure to have all your documents in order and work with your insurance company to ensure any claim isn’t seen as potential life insurance fraud. Understand what goes into buying a plan as well as filing a claim and leave the scam stories to the silver screen.

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