Frank Abagnale
Born April 27, 1948 (1948-04-27) (age 63)Bronxville, New York, U.S.
Charge(s) fraud, forgery, swindling
Penalty 12 months in French prison (about 6 months served) 6 months in Swedish prison 12 years in US prison (4 years served)
Occupation CEO Abagnale & Associates, security consultants
Spouse Kelly [1]
Parents Frank Abagnale, Sr.
Children Scott, Chris, Sean [1]

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Frank Abagnale

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Frank William Abagnale, Jr. in 2007

Frank William Abagnale, Jr. (born April 27, 1948) is an American security consultant known for his history as a former confidence trickster, check forger, impostor, and escape artist. He became notorious in the 1960s for passing $2.5 million worth of meticulously forged checks across 26 countries over the course of five years, beginning when he was 16 years old.In the process, he claimed to have assumed no fewer than eight separate identities, impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor, a Bureau of Prisons agent, and a lawyer. He escaped from police custody twice (once from a taxiing airliner and once from a U.S. federal penitentiary), before he was 21 years old.He served less than five years in prison before starting to work for the federal government. He is a consultant and lecturer at the academy and field offices for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He also runs Abagnale & Associates, a financial fraud consultancy company.Abagnale's life story provided the inspiration for the feature film Catch Me If You Can, as well as the Broadway musical, which opened in April 2011, and ghostwritten autobiography of the same name.

Childhood

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Abagnale was one of four children and spent the first sixteen years of his life in Bronxville, New York. His French mother, Paulette, and father, Frank Abagnale Sr., divorced when he was 16, and afterwards he would be the only child of whom his father would gain custody. At the divorce hearing, Abagnale ran away never to see his father again. According to Abagnale, his father did not necessarily want him, but to reunite his family, he would attempt to win his mother back until his father's death in 1974. His father was also an affluent local who was very keen on politics, and was a major role model for Abagnale Jr.

First con

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His first victim was his father. As Frank Jr. grew interested in women, he found that he could not stop spending money on them. To fund his exploits with the opposite sex, he asked his father for a credit card on which to charge gasoline for the 1962 Ford truck his father gave him. He began to make deals with gasoline station employees all around the New York area to falsely charge items to his card, then give him a portion of the money; in return the employee got to keep the item and "resell" it for the full price. Over the course of two months, Frank Jr "bought" 14 sets of tires, 22 batteries, and large quantities of gasoline.

Bank fraud

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Abagnale's first confidence trick was writing personal checks on his own overdrawn account. This, however, would only work for a limited time before the bank demanded payment, so he moved on to opening other accounts in different banks, eventually creating new identities to sustain this charade. Over time, he experimented and developed different ways of defrauding banks, such as printing out his own almost-perfect copies of checks, depositing them and persuading banks to advance him cash on the basis of money in his accounts.

One of Abagnale's famous tricks was to print his account number on blank deposit slips and add them to the stack of real blank slips in the bank. This meant that the deposits written on those slips by bank customers ended up going into his account rather than that of the legitimate customers.

At a speech given to the students of Florida State University, Frank described one instance where he noticed the location where airlines and car rental businesses such as United Airlines and Hertz would drop off their daily collections of money in a zip-up bag and deposit it into a drop box on the airport premises. Using a security guard disguise he bought at a local costume shop, he put a sign over the box saying "out of service, place deposits with security guard on duty" and collected money that way. Later he disclosed how he could not believe this idea had actually worked, stating with some astonishment: "How can a drop box be out of service?"[citation needed]

Impersonations

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Airline pilot
Pan American World Airways estimated that between the ages of 16 and 18, Frank Abagnale flew over 1,000,000 miles on over 250 flights and flew to 26 countries, at Pan Am's expense, by deadheading. He was also able to stay at hotels for free during this time. Everything from food to lodging was billed to the airline. Abagnale stated that although he was often invited by actual pilots to take the controls in-flight, he never actually accepted their offers, instead using the "12 hours between the bottle and the throttle" rule as a convenient alibi.[citation needed]

Teaching assistant
He forged a Columbia University degree and taught sociology at Brigham Young University for a semester, working as a teaching assistant by the name of "Frank Adams".

Doctor
For almost a year he impersonated a chief resident pediatrician in a Georgia hospital under the alias Frank Conners. He chose this course after he was nearly arrested disembarking a flight in New Orleans. Afraid of possible capture, he retired temporarily to Georgia. When filling out a rental application he impulsively listed his occupation as "doctor", fearing that the owner might check with Pan Am if he wrote "pilot". After befriending a real doctor who lived in the same apartment complex, he agreed to act as resident supervisor of interns as a favor until the local hospital could find someone else to take the job. The position was not difficult for Abagnale because supervisors did no real medical work. He was nearly exposed though, when an infant almost died from oxygen deprivation (He had no idea what the nurse meant when she said there was a "blue baby"). He was able to fake his way through most of his duties by letting the interns handle the cases coming in during his late-night shift, setting broken bones and other such mundane tasks. When the hospital found a replacement he returned to the air, having lasted 11 months, leaving only after he'd come to the realization that his inability to respond to situations like the blue baby could put lives at risk.

Attorney
Abagnale forged a Harvard University law transcript, passed the bar exam of Louisiana and got a job at the Louisiana Attorney General's office at the age of nineteen. This happened while he was posing as Pan Am First Officer "Robert Black." He told a stewardess he had briefly dated that he was also a Harvard law student, and she introduced him to a lawyer friend. Abagnale was told the bar needed more lawyers and was offered a chance to apply. After making a fake transcript from Harvard, he prepared himself for the compulsory exam. Despite failing twice, he claims to have passed the bar exam legitimately on the third try after eight weeks of study, because "Louisiana at the time allowed you to take the Bar over and over as many times as you needed. It was really a matter of eliminating what you got wrong."

In his biography, he described the premise of his legal job as a "gopher boy" who simply fetched coffee and books for his boss. However, there was a real Harvard graduate who also worked for that attorney general, and he hounded Abagnale with questions about his tenure at Harvard. Naturally, Abagnale could not answer questions about a university he had never attended, and he later resigned after eight months to protect himself, after learning the suspicious graduate was making inquiries into his background.

Capture and imprisonment

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Eventually he was caught in France in 1969 when an Air France attendant whom he had dated in the past recognized him and notified the police. When the French police apprehended him, 12 of the countries in which he had committed fraud sought his extradition. After a two-day trial, he first served prison time in Perpignan's House of Arrest in France—a one-year sentence that was reduced by the presiding judge at his trial to six months. At Perpignan, he was held, naked, in a tiny, filthy, totally dark cell, which he was never allowed to leave, and which lacked any toilet facilities, a mattress or a blanket. Moreover, both food and water were severely restricted.[citation needed]

He was then extradited to Sweden where he was treated fairly well under Swedish law. During trial for forgery, his defense attorney almost had his case dismissed by arguing that he had "created" the fake checks and not forged them, but his charges were instead reduced to swindling and fraud. He served six months in a Malmö prison, only to learn at the end of it he would be tried next in Italy. Later, a Swedish judge asked a U.S. State Department official to revoke his passport. Without a valid passport Swedish authorities were legally compelled to deport him to the U.S., where he was sentenced to 12 years in a federal prison for multiple counts of forgery.

Alleged escapes

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While being deported to the U.S., Abagnale escaped from a British VC-10 airliner as it was turning onto a taxi strip at New York's JFK International Airport. Under cover of night, he scaled a nearby fence and hailed a cab to Grand Central Terminal. After stopping in the Bronx to change clothes and pick up a set of keys to a Montreal bank safe deposit box containing US$20,000, Abagnale caught a train to Montreal's Dorval airport to purchase a ticket to São Paulo, Brazil, a country with which the U.S. had no extradition treaty. On his way to Montreal he had a close call at a Mac's Milk in Dundas, Ontario. He was later caught by a constable of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while standing in line at the ticket counter and subsequently handed over to the U.S. Border Patrol.[citation needed]

Being sentenced to 12 years in the Federal Correction Institution at Petersburg, Virginia, in April 1971, Abagnale also reportedly escaped the Federal Detention Center in Atlanta, Georgia while awaiting trial, which he considers in his book to be one of the most infamous escapes in history. During the time, U.S. prisons were being condemned by civil rights groups and investigated by congressional committees. In a stroke of luck that included the accompanying U.S. marshal forgetting his detention commitment papers, Abagnale was mistaken for an undercover prison inspector and was even given privileges and food far better than the other inmates. The FDC in Atlanta had already lost two employees as a result of reports written by undercover federal agents, and Abagnale took advantage of their vulnerability. He contacted a friend (called in his book "Jean Sebring") who posed as his fiancée and slipped him the business card of "Inspector C.W. Dunlap" of the Bureau of Prisons which she had obtained by posing as a freelance writer doing an article on "fire safety measures in federal detention centers". She also handed over a business card from "Sean O'Riley" (later revealed to be Joe Shea), the FBI agent in charge of Abagnale's case, which she doctored at a stationery print shop. Abagnale told the corrections officers that he was indeed a prison inspector and handed over Dunlap's business card as proof. He told them that he needed to contact FBI Agent Sean O'Riley, on a matter of urgent business.[citation needed]

O'Riley's phone number (actually the number altered by Sebring) was dialed and picked up by Jean Sebring, at a payphone in an Atlanta shopping-mall, posing as an operator at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Later, he was allowed to meet unsupervised with O'Riley in a predetermined car outside the detention center. Sebring, incognito, picked Abagnale up and drove him to an Atlanta bus station where he took a Greyhound bus to New York, and soon thereafter, a train to Washington, D.C.. Abagnale bluffed his way through an attempted capture by posing as an FBI agent after being recognized by a motel registration clerk. Still bent on making his way to Brazil, Abagnale was picked up a few weeks later by two New York City Police Department detectives when he inadvertently walked past their unmarked police car.

Legitimate jobs

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In 1974, after he had served less than five years, the United States federal government released him on the condition that he would help the federal authorities without pay against crimes committed by fraud and scam artists, and sign in once a week. Not wanting to return to his family in New York, he left the choice of parole up to the court, and it was decided that he would be paroled in Texas.

After his release, Abagnale tried several jobs, including cook, grocer and movie projectionist, but he was fired from most of these upon having his criminal career discovered via background checks and not informing his employers that he was a former convict. Finding them unsatisfying, he approached a bank with an offer. He explained to the bank what he had done, and offered to speak to the bank's staff and show various tricks that "paperhangers" use to defraud banks. His offer included the condition that if they did not find his speech helpful, they would owe him nothing; otherwise, they would only owe him $500 with an agreement that they would provide his name to other banks. The banks were impressed by the results, and he began a legitimate life as a security consultant.[citation needed]

He later founded Abagnale & Associates, which advises businesses on fraud. Abagnale is now a millionaire through his legal fraud detection and avoidance consulting business based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Abagnale also continues to advise the FBI, with whom he has associated for over 35 years, by teaching at the FBI Academy and lecturing for FBI field offices throughout the country. According to his website, more than 14,000 institutions have adopted Abagnale's fraud prevention programs.

He lives in Charleston, South Carolina with his wife, whom he married one year after becoming legitimate. They have three sons, including one who currently works for the FBI.

Abagnale and Joe Shea, the FBI agent on whom the character of Carl Hanratty was based for the film Catch Me If You Can, remained close friends until Shea's death.

Veracity of claims

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The authenticity of Abagnale's criminal exploits were questioned even before the publishing of Catch Me If You Can. In 1978, after Abagnale had been a featured speaker at an anti-crime seminar, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter looked into his assertions. Phone calls to banks, schools, hospitals and other institutions Abagnale mentioned turned up no evidence of his cons under the aliases he used. Abagnale's response was that "Due to the embarrassment involved, I doubt if anyone would confirm the information."

In 2002, Abagnale himself addressed the issue of his story's truthfulness rather vaguely with a statement posted on his company's website. The statement said in part "I was interviewed by the co-writer only about four times. I believe he did a great job of telling the story, but he also over dramatized and exaggerated some of the story. That was his style and what the editor wanted. He always reminded me that he was just telling a story and not writing my biography."

Media appearances

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In 1977, Abagnale appeared on the TV quiz show To Tell the Truth, along with two contestants also presenting themselves as him. A reenactment of this episode appeared in Catch Me If You Can, featuring actor Leonardo DiCaprio in his place. This movie is based on the semi-autobiographical book of the same name, written by Abagnale with the help of Stan Redding. The real Abagnale makes a cameo appearance in this film as one of the French police officers taking his character into custody.

In the early 1990s, Abagnale was featured as a recurring guest on the UK Channel 4 television series Secret Cabaret. The show was based around magic and illusions with a sinister, almost gothic presentation style. Abagnale was featured as an expert exposing various confidence tricks.

In 2007, Abagnale appeared in a short role as a speaker in the BBC TV series The Real Hustle. He spoke of different scams run by fraudsters.

Books

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In 2002, Abagnale wrote The Art of the Steal, listing common confidence tricks and ways to prevent consumers from being defrauded. He also talked about identity theft and the advent of Internet scamming.

  • Catch Me If You Can, 2000. ISBN 978-0-7679-0538-1 (used as a source for most of the biography)
  • The Art of the Steal, Broadway Books, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7679-0683-8
  • Real U Guide To Identity Theft, 2004. ISBN 978-1932999013
  • Stealing Your Life, Random House/Broadway Books, April 2007. ISBN 978-0767925860


Musical

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Frank's life has most recently been adapted into a new musical, Catch Me If You Can, arriving on Broadway in Spring 2011 at the Neil Simon Theatre. The show stars Aaron Tveit, Norbert Leo Butz, Tom Wopat, and Kerry Butler. First preview: March 11; Opening night: April 10, 2011.

See also

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  • Questioned document examination
  • Michael Sabo
  • Ferdinand Waldo Demara


Some of the content on this page has been provided by the following page on Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Abagnale


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