In 2002 Leonardo DiCaprio starred in the Spielberg movie, “Catch Me If You Can” which was a portrayal of the life of one Frank Abagnale, one of the most famous fraudsters of modern times.
Frank Abagnale’s recent professional accomplishments include working with the FBI and running a highly successful fraud detection and avoidance consultancy, Abagnale and Associates, but how did he get there?
Frank Abagnale Jnr
Frank William Abagnale Jnr was born on April 27th, 1948, in Westchester County and was the third of four children.
At the age of fourteen his parents divorced and Frank found it hard to cope with. He became so traumatised that he ran away from home two years later.
Frank Abagnale began showing a penchant for fraud around this time. He would go to the local car part dealer and purchase spares on his father’s Mobil card before selling them back to the attendant for less than the purchase price.
Frank used the cash for running his car and going on dates. He carried on doing this until the local Mobil branch caught up with his father and started asking questions.
Though never formally punished for this, Frank did end up going to a Catholic Charities school for juvenile offenders for around four months.
After running away from home Frank soon discovered the harsh realities of life and had to write a cheque for more than he had in his bank account.
Realising that he could get away with spending money he didn’t have, he continued to draw on this account until the bank demanded payment.
To overcome this problem Abagnale started opening more bank accounts.
When his name became known and his credit rating poor he adopted new identities and repeated the process.
Abagnale was always thinking and looking for new ways to improve his income.
His next fraud involved faking cheques that he paid into his own bank accounts.
As it took time for the bank to realise these cheques were wothless, Abagnale was often able to persuade them to advance loans based on the amounts he was paying in.
The next type of fraud was to write his account number on a few paying in slips which he then dispersed through the pile available in the bank.
Some unsuspecting customers used these without checking the details, thereby putting some $40000 into Abagnale’s account before the scam was detected.
By this time of course, Frank had moved on and changed his identity yet again.
Pan Am Pilot
Following the bank frauds, Frank moved onto impersonating for profit.
First up was ‘Frank Williams’, a Pan Am pilot.
Using a fake id card and a uniform obtained from a dry cleaner, Abagnale was able to take advantage of free flights, food and lodgings as airlines allowed competing company’s pilots free services as a courtesy at that time.
After narrowly avoiding capture when disembarking a flight in New Orleans, Abagnale evolved into ‘Frank Conners’, a doctor, in order to avoid detection.
Befriending a real doctor, Frank became a resident supervisor for him as a favour until a permanent replacement could be found.
For almost a year he got away with it as his position allowed him to avoid doing anything too technical.
He returned to his Pan Am ‘career’ as ‘Robert Black’ and began dating a flight attendant for a short while.
She introduced him to a lawyer friend she had after Abagnale had persuaded her that he’d studied at Harvard.
This led to him taking the bar exam and he managed to pass after the third attempt, purely by learning from his previous mistakes.
At nineteen years of age Frank Abagnale found himself working in the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, a position he held for eight months before a Harvard graduate found that Frank was not very capable at answering his questions.
Realising that this graduate was checking his background Frank resigned to avoid detection.
In 1969 Abagnale was caught – an Air France hostess recognised him from a wanted picture.
He was tried and convicted of fraud and spent six months of a year long sentence in a harsh French prison in which he almost died.
During this time another twenty-six countries in which he had committed fraud asked for his extradition.
After being transported to Sweden and italy where he served sentences Frank was extradited back to the States where he was sentenced to twelve years in a federal prison for various forgery crimes.
Some time later Abagnale was held in the Atlanta Federal Detention Centre whilst awaiting trial.
The US Marshall accompanying him had forgotten his papers and so Frank somehow got mistaken for an undercover prison inspector.
Enlisting the help of a friend he managed to persuade officials that he was indeed an inspector and needed to talk to his FBI handler.
Allowed an unsupervised meeting with her outside the prison he promptly jumped on a Greyhound to New York where he was picked up by two undercover cops who saw him walk past their car.
Abagnale was released early, in 1974, on condition he work unpayed for the Federal Government, helping them combat fraud and scams.
During this time his paid work came from menial jobs which didn’t last long due to his criminal history surfacing in background checks.
He then hit upon the idea of offering his services to banks.
He offered free consultations on how to comabt fraud with the bank paying only if happy with his service.
His name soon spread around all the banks in the area and this led him into a legitimate career as a security consultant.
Through his multi million dollar company, Abagnale and Associates, Frank has managed to repay all those who fell victim to his frauds and now he offers various courses, seminars and fraud solutions.