Grave error: trying to fool reaper

By James Quiggle
May 11, 2001
Faking your own death to collect life insurance money is an old scam. First you take out a fat life insurance policy, then have relatives convince the life insurer you died in some distant country. They collect the proceeds and give you your share, whereupon you quietly disappear with a large bank account.

Raul Pero tried to get rich by fooling six insurers he was dead. But the Los Angeles resident screwed up, and instead bought hard time in the slammer.

Raul also tried to fool the Reaper, who'll have plenty of time to deal with him later.

Here's how it all happened: Raul took out nearly $2 million coverage on his life from those insurers four years ago. Soon afterward, his bereaved roommate called West Coast Life Insurance with tragic news: Poor Raul had just died back home in Chile.

Would the company kindly send a check for the life insurance proceeds?

To prove Raul had met his Maker, she gave West Coast a death certificate from Chile.

The document looked official enough, except for one problem: She'd contacted the insurer the day before the date listed on the death certificate.


The certificate also said Raul had died of respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. But the claim on his policies said he'd died of natural causes.

By now the claim was smelling really bad, so the insurers had Chilean officials open up Raul's grave in Santiago to see if anyone was home.

His municipal grave plot seemed real. It had a wooden cross and plaque with Raul's name. But after digging up his coffin, officials only found rocks and bags of dirt inside.

Oops again

It wasn't long before the insurers got a panicky call from the real Raul, the same Raul who'd just died of a heart attack.

Heh heh, it was all a mistake, he said. No one meant to file a real claim. Honest.

Too late.


Investigators still had one question, however: Someone named Paul Terry Reed was helping the insurers deal with the claim paperwork, hoping to get the money flowing faster.

He said he was Raul's step-brother. Was he?

After nosing around, investigators found he was actually Raul, using the name of a teenager killed in a car crash nearly 35 years ago.

Raul had also gotten ahold of Paul's birth certificate and Social Security number and had applied for a U.S. passport in Paul's name.

Gee, could Raul be preparing to flee the country after the life insurance money was doled out?

Or was his fake passport, heh heh, also a mistake just like his fake death?

Raul quickly caved in once prosecutors lined up the evidence.

He pleaded guilty in Los Angeles County Superior Court on April 26, and faces up to 10 years when sentenced in June.

None of the insurers paid a dime because they were too cagey to slap down millions before questioning such a stinky claim. Raul thus thinks he doesn't deserve prison time.

"It's not a prison case," said his lawyer. "No money was ever lost by the insurers."

View previous "Fraud Cases of the Month"

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