A new ITV series follows the story of the notorious fraudster John Darwin, who faked his own death at sea in a plot with his wife Anne Darwin to collect his £250,000 life insurance policy. Now, two decades on from the con-trick that made headlines across the country, we look at the people who attempted to do the same to claim life insurance worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in recent years.
From a mother conspiring with her teenage son to a man impersonating his wife on the phone, people have gone to great lengths to fake their deaths…
One woman from London tried to fake her husband’s death in an attempt to claim life insurance worth nearly £400,000. Thuile Bhebhe, 51, told her insurance company Aviva that her husband had died in Zimbabwe in August 2016, and submitted false documents including a death certificate and an application form for a post-mortem examination. The insurer soon discovered inconsistency in the paperwork and decided to carry out a few checks.
When Aviva visited Bhebhe at home, she even said that she had attended her husband’s burial. But the company quickly revealed that he was working his shift as a nurse at a London hospital on the day he was alleged to have died thousands of miles away.
The insurance company reported Bhebhe to the City of London Police and its fraud department launched an investigation. She was sentenced at Inner London Crown Court on 15 March 2021, to two years imprisonment suspended for two years and 100 hours of community service.
Adil Kasiman and Arafa Nassib
Another woman conspired with her son to fake her own death in an effort to claim £140,000 worth of life insurance. Adil Kasim, 18, claimed that his mum Arafa Nassib, 47, had died in a car crash in Zanzibar in April 2016 and submitted a death certificate of Nassib to Scottish Widows.
The insurance company was suspicious of the claim and launched an investigation, which revealed that Nassib had not been at the hospital listed in the death certificate and had not been treated by the doctor who Kasim had named in a life insurance questionnaire. The company also found out that the death certificate and road traffic accident reports were forged.
Kasim was arrested on 22 December 2016 where he admitted that he and his mother had planned the fraud and that his mother was now living in Canada to avoid detection. She returned to the UK on 8 February 2017 and was arrested.
Nassib was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and her son was given a 12 month community order for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation on 12 July 2017. A third case saw a man faking his own death and trying to pretend to be his wife in an attempt to make an insurance claim worth a total of £1m.
Syed Bukhari, 39, contacted his insurance company claiming to be his wife and said that he’d died from a heart attack in Pakistan. He submitted fake documents including a medical certificate of cause of death, a death registration certificate and a trust document.
Bukhari even impersonated his partner on the phone in order to validate his claim, but the insurer became suspicious of the caller’s identity. A voice analysis expert compared Bukhari’s voice to the speaker on the phone and soon discovered that it was himself, and not his wife making the call.
The medical certificate Bukhari sent through was found to have his fingerprints on the death certificate, and the cemetery where Bukhari had allegedly been buried had no record of him in their register.
The insurance company reported Bukhari to the police. He pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by false representation and was sentenced at Inner London Crown Court to five years and seven months in prison on 16 January 2020. Insurance companies usually have various checks in place to prevent scammers from taking advantage of insurance payouts.
What the insurance companies say
Paul Keeble, head of communication at Canada Life, said: “For deaths that occur in the UK, we use the UK death registry or a direct confirmation received from a coroner’s office. Where a death has occurred overseas, we insist on original death certificates where they have not been added to the official UK death registry. We also cross-check with financial crime databases and may also request additional supporting evidence on occasion.”
If insurance companies have gathered enough evidence to suspect that the death has been staged, they would usually refer these cases to the City of London Police, which has a dedicated fraud team.
The Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department (IFED) says life insurance fraud is a fairly uncommon crime and the team only investigates one or two cases a year. However, the true figure could be higher as some instances might not be reported or are dealt with by local police forces.
Detective Constable Daryl Fryatt at IFED said: “If someone has died, it should be easy to verify because there should be evidence to show where they died, there should be a papertrail such as a death certificate and a hospital note.”
He says it’s mostly an “amatuer fraud” and the location of the death and their finances usually give it away. He added:“Some will pick countries where it’s hard to verify their death. I’ve seen places like Palestine where it’s going to be very difficult to get the evidence.
“If the person was in a lot of debt, it’s also a massive red flag. This sort of crime isn’t usually sophisticated because people do it out of desperation.”