Catch Me If You Can subject Frank Abagnale knows about fraud. As a young man he perpetrated a book’s worth of the most ingenuous “white collar” crimes imaginable against corporations, law firms and the federal government.
So, when Abagnale now tours the country making personal appearances and offering to help individuals and organizations avoid being victimized by fraudsters, he commands movie star attention.
At a mortgage industry conference in Orlando last month, Abagnale — speaking in silky staccato sound bites — ran through a seemingly endless recitation of swindling techniques that have only become easier in the computer age, he notes.
Now a dapper, grey-haired man in late middle-age, Abagnale says identity theft, in particular, has become “an amazingly simple crime” to commit. Personal information is everywhere and it is easier to obtain, as well as replicate.
The former con artist points to the Internet as a counterfeiter’s best friend.
“There’s one Web site, www.familysearch.org, that’s owned and operated by the Mormon Church. It has all the information you need for identity theft, including Social Security number, date of birth, date of death, etc.”
What’s more, the advance of technology has put even more personal information at risk. For example, 253,000 PDAs (personal digital assistants) were lost at U.S. airports last year — all of them containing individual, personal information that could be misused if they fell into the wrong hands.
The cost to business has mushroomed. In 2004, Abagnale says organizations lost $47 billion from such scams. Every individual in the country shoulders an average of $500 in white collar crime costs.
But, don’t bother calling federal law enforcement officials for help, Abagnale says.
“Unless the crime involves a minimum $100,000 loss, the FBI won’t investigate or prosecute,” he asserts. That’s because the emphasis has, for some time, been on violent crimes and since the domestic terrorist attacks of 2001, there has been an even more pronounced shift away from “victimless” offenses.
One may wince a bit hearing a former racketeer moralize about society and its contribution to crime, but Abagnale does just that in his speaking engagements, explaining that today’s culture promotes, rather than deters, a corrupt mentality.
“We live in an extremely unethical society,” Abagnale says, wagging a verbal finger and spouting a plethora of statistics about antisocial behavior ranging from students who cheat on exams to citizens who dodge tax payments. In addition, neglect and carelessness adds to the problem — 51% of people with checkbooks do not “reconcile” their accounts on a regular basis, potentially letting a theft go unnoticed for months.
Famous Figure Fights Fraud
First he wrote bad checks. Then he went to jail. Then he joined the FBI. Then he wrote a biography that became a movie directed by Steven Spielberg where he was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio and chased by Tom Hanks. Now he’s telling mortgage company executives how they can avoid being looted.