Frank Abagnale Jr., the American Security Consultant and ex-conman known for his run as an imposter and check forger joins Jordan Harbinger to discuss his exploits as a con man, state of security, and how we can ensure we stay away from scams.
Frank Abagnale is notoriously known for his run as an imposter assuming no less than eight identities including an airline pilot, a physician, a lawyer, and an FBI agent. He escaped from Police Custody twice after capture. Frank committed these acts in the 1960s when he was between 16 and 22 years old. His book, Catch Me If You Can is the inspiration for the Academy Award-nominated movie, Catch Me If You Can (2002) starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. His newest book is Scam Me If You Can: Simple Strategies to Outsmart Today’s Rip-off Artists.
Please enjoy the Jordan Harbinger Show Frank Abagnale Podcast Notes capturing the essence of the conversation of a life around crimes and security.
- Frank Abagnale’s first victim was his own father whose credit card he used at gas stations to purchase tires and other car-related items that he then sold to the attendants in the stations for cash. Ultimately, his father was liable for the bill amount on the credit card.
- Frank Abagnale asserts that had he been a bit older, he might not have committed the acts he did because he was only an adolescent when he committed the acts with no fear of being caught or of the consequences.
- Frank believes that what he did in the 1960s is much easier to do now with the advancement in technologies
- Frank considers himself as observant with the gift of instant recognition for something not right
- He doesn’t endorse the use of passwords as a security measure
- Scammers nowadays with the technological advancement do not have to see their victims and hence have no sympathy for them
- Frank Abagnale during his run as an imposter was observant and talked less and listened more
- He made his own FAA license to fly on planes as an airline pilot
- As he became older his conscience came into play during his acts
- Frank once took a stack of blank deposit slips to his hotel room and encoded his account number at the bottom of the slips and returned it on the table at the banks. When people deposited money from the blank slips, it was deposited into his account.
- He took the identity of an FBI agent to return to one of the banks where he cashed his forged checks to get back one of the checks with some personal details on it to destroy it.
- The 3 traits of a good conman are personality, observation, and research.
- No matter how much technology has evolved, the criminal mind thinks and stays the same.
- Two Red Flags of any scam – Asking money immediately for something, asking for personal information like Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Mother’s Maiden Name, etc.
- The prison sentence in France is short but intense to make prisoners realize their mistakes
- Frank Abagnale shared a good friendship with Joe Shea, the FBI Agent who caught him till the day he passed away.
FRANK ABAGNALE QUOTES
- “There is no technology that can defeat Social engineering. And there never will be. Not even AI can defeat Social engineering. You can only defeat it by educating people.”
- “If you play the game, you have to play the game to the very end.”
- “I was always smart enough to know that…you can fool people some of the time but you can’t fool people all the time. And I knew that eventually people would get wise to me and they would catch on.”
- “If I was anything, I was an opportunist.”
- “The one thing that stays the same no matter how much technology is in the world, the criminal mind stays the same, thinks the same. It’s the same scams that they did 50 years ago are the same scams today. They’re just using another method to do it.”
- “You have to be a much smarter consumer today as well as being a much smarter businessman today or you will get taken.”
- “You can only change your life if you want to change your life. People can’t change your life for you. You have to want to do that. And you have to have some reason, some motivation to want to do that.”
FRANK ABAGNALE’S EARLY LIFE
- Frank Abagnale’s first victim was his own father whom he scammed when he had his credit card and used it to buy tires and other car-related items at gas stations which he then sold to the attendants at the stations for cash. His father was ultimately liable to pay for the credit card amount.
- Frank Abagnale’s parents were going through a divorce when he started his spree of scam acts. He thought that if he got into trouble that might get his parents back together.
- Since Frank was an adolescent when he started his acts, he had no fear of being caught or of the consequences.
THE ATM MACHINE DOOR STORY
- Frank Abagnale was once approached by a company planning to deploy a new ATM machine and requested if they could leave a machine at Frank’s office so that he can check it and let them know if there were any flaws. Frank saw the picture of the machine and told them that the machine was flawed.
- After two weeks, he went to an airport where a test ATM was placed along with the people from the company and realized that the ATM machine door opened with a light that sensed a person’s hands and the door closed after 2 seconds after removing the hands. He placed super glue on the door of the machine and watched from a distance as people walked up to the ATM to get money.
- As people put in their cards and typed in their PIN, the money fell into a well, but the ATM door wouldn’t open because it was glued. The people then canceled their transactions and moved to another ATM.
- Frank finally walked up to the ATM, put in his card, typed his PIN, and popped open the ATM door to retrieve his money along with all the money of the previous people for whom the door did not open. He told the company to get rid of the doors.
SCAMS MUCH EASIER NOW
- Frank Abagnale says that scams are much easier to do now since most of the information about one’s personal life can be easily accessed online
- No technology can defeat Social engineering. It can only be defeated by educating people.
A CASE FOR NO PASSWORDS
- Frank Abagnale does not endorse the use of passwords
- According to him, passwords can be changed by any person who has little information about the victim and takes the identity of the victim.
FAA LICENSE STORY
- Once during one of his flights as an imposter airline pilot, a pilot asked for his FAA License saying that the FAA Tower wanted to check it. Frank said that he had put it in his flight bag and checked it.
- Then Frank Abagnale, from a flying magazine saw that one could have a plaque of their FAA License and all that was needed was the information. Frank sent his information to get a plaque made and then went to a printing shop to make a white cardstock copy of the plaque with the FAA logo which looked exactly like the real FAA License.
GROWING OLDER, GROWING CONSCIOUS
- Frank Abagnale grew conscious of his actions and the implications as he grew older
- He knew that he could not run for long and that the FBI would soon catch up with him
- He was also tired of running for long but played the game till the very end
- Frank Abagnale pretended to be a pediatrician while he was staying in an apartment complex in Atlanta, Georgia because he knew that the police were behind an imposter airline pilot
- He thought that a pediatrician was a safe deal in a residence of predominantly single people. However, he got in touch with another pediatrician and soon found himself replacing a doctor for two weeks at a hospital.
ACTING AS AN ATTORNEY
- A flight attendant he was dating from Louisiana said to him that her father was an Attorney General. He commented to her that he had a law license and practiced for a little bit before becoming a pilot.
- He ended up passing the bar exam in his third attempt and worked as a fake attorney for eight months.
FORGING CHECKS, BLANK DEPOSIT CHECKS & FBI AGENT IMPOSTER
- Frank Abagnale realized that no one at the bank knew the MICR numbers at the bottom of the check. He went to a library, read about it and came to know that the numbers were like a zipcode for the 12 federal reserve banks in the United States, from 01 for Boston to 12 for San Francisco. He realized that he could manipulate the MICR numbers at the bottom to cash a check at New York which would make it go all the way up until Honolulu, Hawaii and by the time the Honolulu branch stamps the check as forged and returns it back to the New York branch, he would have a two to three-week float where he could cash more forged checks.
- Frank Abagnale once took a stack of blank deposit checks to his hotel room and printed his account number at the bottom of the checks. Since the computers would read the MICR line before reading the optical line, the stack of deposit checks he returned to the bank with his account number at the bottom was used by depositors to deposit money into his bank account.
- Another time while getting the phone number of a girl to whom he had revealed his real name, he wrote the number at the back of a check and then cashed it. It was only after some time that he realized that the girl’s name was on the back of the check. He knew that the check would be returned back as forged and hence dressed up as an FBI agent and went to the bank, collecting the original check stating that it was needed for evidence and asking the bank to make a copy of the front portion of the check. He then destroyed the original check with the girl’s number in the back of it.
3 TRAITS OF A GOOD CONMAN
2 RED FLAGS OF SCAMS
Frank Abagnale says that there two red flags to watch out for from a person not known before to ascertain if he/she is a scammer.
- Need for Money – immediately
- Need for personal information like Social Security Number, Date Of Birth, Mother’s Maiden Name, etc.
PRISON SENTENCE & LIFE AFTER IMPRISONMENT
- Frank Abagnale served prison sentences in France, Sweden, and America.
- He recalls the experience in France as the worst because the country wants its prisoners to realize their mistakes and suffer the consequences
- The prison sentence in Sweden was the least harsh with the sentence in America being somewhere in the middle between France and Sweden.
- He served less than 5 years in prison before beginning to work for the federal government.
- He met his future wife while working as an undercover agent for the FBI and fell in love with her. He says that marrying and having kids turned around his life.
Frank Abagnale now works for the FBI and has his own fraud consulting company, Abagnale and Associates.