Frank Abagnale, EXIT sign in darkness

Frank Abagnale Presentation

Back in December, Tori gave me a best-selling book written in 1970 she thought I’d like. A couple months later, I discovered that the author was coming to give a talk at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins.

I ended up reading the whole book the same afternoon I made that “discovery.” Then a couple days after that, I watched the movie based on the book of the same name.

Yes, the story was that good. And so was the presentation.

The book is Catch Me If You Can and the author is the world’s most notorious confidence man, Frank Abagnale. This is a sampling of his criminal “achievements” (as chronicled in the book and movie, all before he was 19 years old:

  • Posed as a pilot and deadheaded more than 200 flights.
  • Ripped off approximately $2.5 million in fraudulent checks in all 50 states and 26 countries.
  • Masqueraded as a pediatrician and was in charge of a bunch of interns in a hospital in Atlanta for nearly a year.
  • Taught sociology at a university in Utah for a summer while posing as a professor.
  • Passed the bar exam in Louisiana after studying for just nine weeks and was an attorney for the state for many months.
  • Escaped high security prisons and even an airplane (while under arrest).

While the above acts were certainly criminal, immoral and unjustifiable, it’s undeniable that Abagnale was a gifted man (even if he himself denied that in a show of humility). Fortunately, following his final incarceration in his 20s, he began working for the “good side” including working for the FBI without renumeration for 30 years, founding a company devoted to preventing identity theft, and paying back all the money he stole.

The first part of his talk rehashed much of his book for those unfamiliar with the story. (One difference: he said his infamous plane escape was achieved not by removing a bathroom toilet as claimed in the book and movie, but rather through the kitchenette of the plane.) Despite not getting much new information from that portion of the event, it was still worth hearing the story told from the man himself in a very smooth, self-assured way befitting of a former con man.

In the Questions & Answers session afterwards, Abagnale talked about many things (particularly in regards to his specialty and profession: that were not in Catch Me If You Can including the following:

  • He advised using checks for an absolute minimum of transactions, due to the risks of them being seen or intercepted by unscrupulous people.
  • Debit cards carry higher risk than credit cards because it is your actual bank account you are drawing funds off of versus the credit card company’s. Hence he does not own a debit card.
  • Credit cards have low liability (usually $50) and if you have a dispute with a vendor over a purchase made with a credit card, you have the credit card company on your side.
  • When his kids were teenagers, he provided them with credit cards (whose statements he’d review each month) so that they would build credit while they were young. This aided them in purchasing a car and home soon after they graduated from college.
  • Abagnale denied being rehabilitated by prison or becoming a born-again Christian, but credited his wife for turning his life around.
  • He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but first wanted to live in Fort Collins and even made an offer on a mansion in FC for $600k in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the government (which had repossessed the house from the previous owner) did not accept his offer and ultimately sold it for less.
  • He said one should destroy sensitive, discarded documents (e.g., bank statements) with a shredder. There are three types: strip-cut, cross-cut, and micro-cut. Micro-cut shredders are best. Documents from strip-cut shredders could be put back together in an hour; for cross-cut, about eight.

Lastly, Abagnale asserted that “life is long” and urged us to spend a moment to think before doing something because one has to live with mistakes for a long time. He would know—it’s been more than thirty years since his criminal acts, and we are still talking about them.

Frank Abagnale, EXIT sign in darkness
Frank Abagnale giving a speech at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins.