Today we are going to talk about THE 1970 ’S CON ARTIST WHO BECAME HOLLYWOOD ’S TOP STAR. It’s pretty safe to say that Frank Abagnale Jr. lived an extraordinary life. Widely known as one of the most notorious con artists in the entire world, Frank Abagnale Jr. spent the majority of his life, impersona ting identities, forging documents, and even impersonated as an airline pilot, to earn a major profit for himself . Crazy, right ? He gained notoriety in the U.S and overseas for his fraudulent crimes. After years of on the run from the FBI and other worldwide authorities, he was finally caught, and was made an offer to help the FBI as an expert on forgery and theft. He later became the inspiration for a certain Steven Spielberg movie. Let ’s take a deep look on the story of Frank Abagnale Jr.
Frank Abagnale Jr. was born on April 27, 1948, in Bronxville, New York. The third, of four children, to parents Frank Abagnale Sr. and Paulette Abagnale. The couple met in Algiers during World War II, while Frank Sr. was stationed in Oran, with Paulette still only in her teens when they wed. After the war, the two moved to New York, where Frank Sr. started his own business. Abagnale’s childhood was described as stable and had a deep relationship with his father. His father traveled often and was heavily involved in Republican politics, leaving an early impression on Frank Jr. However, the unexpected happened when Paulette decided to leave Frank Sr. due to his frequent absences and the kids which turned Abagnale’s life upsidedown. His father was deeply affected, still in love with his wife, and it took a toll on the kids. After settling their divorce, Abagnale decided to live with his father and was often involved in Frank Jr.’s business operations, which lead to Abagnale learning about White-Collar transactions.
A LIFE OF CRIME & CREDIT CARD SCHEMES
As a teenager, Abagnale soon entered a life of crime with shoplifting. The petty crimes did not last long, as Abagnale decided to take things to a whole other level. Ironically enough, his first victim was his father. He began using his father’s credit card to make a profit for himself. He called various gas stations and told the owners to inquire him for merchandise well below the actual product value. He convinced the attendants of the gas station to give him a portion of his sale back in cash, while keeping a cut for themselves. This scam lasted for a month until his father later received a bill of $3,400 and the scam fell apart. Abagnale was not aware that his father had been struggling financially. His mother, disgusted by the news, sent Abagnale to a school for troubled boys and it was during that time that his father lost his business. Unhappy with the current predicament, he decided to leave home at the age of 16. He got a job for a very low pay ($1.50 an hour…yikes) and believed his pay was low due to the fact that he received no formal education, so Abagnale decided to do something about it.
Abagnale forged his driver’s license that altered his age to 10 years older. While it did get him some better paying jobs, he still failed to make ends meet. He then opted to quit his job, and started writing bad checks, with his forging skills, to support himself financially. He was a master forger and considered one of the first people to exploit the numbers of the code line leading checks to reroute. He eventually wrote over a hundred bad checks but overdrawing his account only happened for so long as the banks eventually demanded payment. Due to this, he started using innovative methods to get away with his schemes. One of these methods included taking a batch of deposit slips, prefilled his account number and put them back in the stack. He noticed that most people left the account number section blank, while banks went by the section if it was filled. He stole $42,000 which reflected in his account the next day. With the fear of eventually getting caught, he went into hiding.
IMPERSONATING AS A PILOT
Realizing he could cash more bad checks if he could project a shining personality with an air of authority, he impersonated himself as a pilot. He thought that air pilots were respected members of the community, and he schemed his way to stealing a uniform. He called Pan Am Airways and told them that he was a pilot who was missing his uniform in a hotel room while traveling and was requesting a new one. With his forging skills, he used a fake employee ID accompanied with a doctored Federal Aviation Administration’s pilot license, HQ told him where to pick up his new uniform, and it was charged to the company. Abagnale claims that it was not an easy feat (contrary to what was depicted in Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can”) as he was terrified collecting the uniform at the airport with the fear of being discovered by pilots and other airport personnel that he was merely a teenager. To get a security badge, he posed as a businessman, and he pretended to be a pilot by the name of Frank Williams to acquire his FAA license. Abagnale learned all he could about flying, posing as a high school student doing a school article on Pan Am. With the forged documents at his disposal along with the newfound knowledge on flying, he hitched plane rides all over the world. According to Pan Am, Abagnale flew over 250 flights, clocking over 1 million times and visiting over 26 countries. He used his forged company I.D in order to fly for free which was offered to employees by Pan Am, this is called deadheading.
While flying mostly as passengers, he was seldomly offered the controls of the flight as a courtesy. On one of these occasions, he accepted. He put the plane on autopilot however as he claimed “He couldn’t fly a kite”. Pan Am started acting suspicious of Abagnale’s activities, he evaded capture and switched identities again. This time opting to impersonate, a doctor.
IMPERSONATING A DOCTOR
He pretended to be a Harvard graduate, and took the bar exam and amazing enough he passed. It took him seven months of studying, and three attempts to pass the exam. He then worked as a physician in Georgia for 11 months, he even practiced as nighttime pediatrician and fortunately enough no emergencies occurred under his supervision. He soon found himself in an even slippery slope, when a doctor who was an actual Harvard Grad came visiting, and suspected Abagnale of his criminal activities. Fearing that he had blown his cover, he was relieved to have found out that he was instead invited to visit the local hospital, where he became a regular visitor and even landed a job. Abagnale however did not want to push it any further, and he decided to leave after discovering that a colleague was doing a background check on him.
GOING STRAIGHT, GETTING CAPTURED, AND ESCAPING
After evading another potential discovery of his activities, Abagnale spent the next two years moving from to job. He claimed he was tired of his criminal activities, and decided to live a straight life from then on. He couldn’t escape his past, as after settling in Montpellier, France, and after cashing in over $2.5 Million in bad checks, a former stewardess (and girlfriend) recognized Abagnale from wanted posters quickly alerted the authorities. He then served time in jail in France, Sweden and the United States. He also attempted to escape two times. The first was while he was being deported back to the U.S, but getting caught by Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable. He claimed to have escaped via the bathroom as the plane landed. It is debunked however as employees claimed that the hatch was sealed shut making it impossible for him to escape. Abagnale eventually posed as an undercover prison inspector in Georgia at a Federal Detention Center. He did it to receive special treatment from guards, such as better food and treatment than everyone else. Posing with his new identity, he convinced the guards to allow him to call the FBI. In reality, he was calling his girlfriend who herself was posing as an FBI Agent on the phone and they then arranged a meeting. He evaded capture one last time by posing as an FBI Agent but was eventually caught for the final time.
HELPING THE AUTHORITIES AND TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF
Abagnale was granted parole after spending years in a prison in Petersburg, Virginia. The condition was for him to help the FBI in his ways to prevent any future success in crimes of con artists committing fraud. He found work lecturing about white-collar crime and shared his information and expertise to banks to avoid fraud and theft. He worked with the FBI for over 30 years as a world expert on document fraud, forgery, check swindling, and embezzlement. Failing to find stable work due to his criminal past, he put up Abagnale & Associates, an Oklahoma based organization which advises companies in knowledge of fraud and over 14,000 businesses have adopted to this anti-fraud measure. Abagnale still helps the FBI to this very day.
BOOK AND MOVIE
In 1980, Abagnale wrote a book “Catch Me If You Can” detailing the events of his life starting from his childhood, to his criminal career, and eventually helping the FBI and others. The book caught interest from the Film Industry. Several directors planned to take on the project but never came into fruition. Eventually, Dreamworks bought the rights of the book, and then produced a film version of “Catch Me If You Can” in 2002, directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg. The film however was made to fit a more dramatic narrative as several key points in Abagnale’s life were exaggerated and dramatized. Abagnale is not a fan of the film and would rather have that part of his life, stay and die in the past.
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