Frank Abagnale Jr. − whose early life as a notorious con man, check forger, and impostor was the subject of the 2002 box-office hit film, “Catch Me If You Can” (as well as a book, Broadway musical and TV program) — chronicled his story and conversion into a fraud expert with the FBI at the Association for Financial Technology 2018 Fall Summit at Hilton Head, S.C.
“I had no fear of consequences. I was too young,” Abagnale told the AFT audience about how between the age of 15 and 21 he used fake credentials and social engineering to conjure some sophisticated scams. He described how he deceived his way through some forms of burglary using credit card schemes; check kiting, where he evidently cashed some $2.5 million in bad checks over the years; and assumed no less than eight identities, including an airline pilot, a physician, a prison agent, and an attorney.
Eventually, Abagnale’s past caught up with him in France and Sweden, and he served time in both countries, before returning to the U.S. where he faced a dozen years in federal prison. “Like all criminals sooner or later you get caught. I was no exception to that rule.”
After serving four of 12 years sentence in federal prison the Government offered to take him out of prison on the condition he go to work with an agency of the federal government for the remainder of his sentence and teach them about methods to prevent others from defrauding authorities.
He has now worked with the FBI for more than 42 years as one of the leading authorities on document fraud, check swindling, forgery and embezzlement. He also lectures as a white-collar crime specialist, providing information to financial institutions and other organizations.
“I've always looked upon what I did as something that was immoral, illegal, unethical, and a burden I live with every single day of my life and will until my death,” Abagnale said. “I was raised in a great country where everyone gets a second chance. I owe my country 800 times more than I will ever be able to pay it in my lifetime for the opportunities it's given me over these past four decades. That is why I'm at the FBI today.”
Abagnale continues to share his expertise at the FBI Academy training new agents and law enforcement officers from all over the world, and teaches at the FBI’s CISO academy and out in field where the FBI has 56 offices in the U.S. and 125 field bureaus around the world.
He spoke on everything involving fraud. “I started out dealing with counterfeits, forgeries and embezzlement. I’ve spent the last 20 years dealing with breaches and identity theft issues in cyberrelated crime.”
Abagnale revealed to the AFT gathering fraud is more extensive than ever, including $100 billion in fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid claims, $7.7 billion dollars in unemployment fraud and $10 billion in food stamp swindles. Most of those committing these crimes don't even live in the U.S.
One thing that has not changed is dealing with social engineering. Abagnale said, “There never will be any technology to stop social engineering. You only stop social engineering through education.”