World’s best con artist: He always knew he would get caught

PARKER, Colo. -- The man dubbed “the world’s best con artist” and subject to the movie “Catch Me if You Can” said he always knew he would get caught.

Frank Abagnale Jr. was in Colorado, sharing his expertise with local fraud investigators.

The 2018 Economic Symposium was hosted by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

“I always knew I would get caught," Abagnale said. "Only a fool would think otherwise. The law sometimes sleeps, but the law never dies.”

Abagnale spent years eluding capture in the 1960s, outwitting and outrunning FBI agents while committing check fraud, posing as a pilot, doctor and lawyer.

He is portrayed in the 2002 movie “Catch Me if You Can” by Leonardo DiCaprio.

“I thought it was amazing," Abagnale said. "Steven Spielberg never made a movie about a live person. He made that movie because he loved the redemption side of my story. What I did with my life. And that’s why he made the movie.

"I thought Leo was magnificent, you know I’m not a big moviegoer. So when they mentioned he was doing it, I went to the movies to see 'Titanic' and 'Street Gangs of New York.'

"I kept thinking to myself who’s going to believe this guy is 16? He’s 28 years old, he looks 28 years old. When the movie came out, he’s a 14-year-old, 16-year-old, 18-year-old. He’s an amazing character actor and I was very fortunate to have someone of his caliber portray me. I think he did an amazing job.”

Abagnale spent five years in prison, then turned his life around.

“I know people would love me to say I saw the light, I was born again, prison rehabilitated me, but the truth is, I came out of prison, I met my wife, I didn’t have a dime to my name, I fell in love," he said.

"I think getting married, having responsibility to take care of someone else, taking care of children, being responsible as a father is really truly what changed my life.”

Abagnale told the gathering of investigators, “Some people write to me: ‘You were brilliant, a genius.' I was neither, I was just a child had I been a genius, I don’t know I would’ve found it necessary to break the law in order to just simply to survive. People are still fascinated by what I did 50 years ago. I always looked at what I did as immoral, illegal unethical, burden I live with every single day of my life. And I will till I die.”

He said he doesn’t believe he is the world’s best con artist.

“I think it’s kind of ridiculous in a way," he said. "First of all, what I did was 50 years ago, I was a 16-year-old boy. The total amount of money was $2 million.

"So when we look at things going on today, we have cases out there that are billions being stolen from investment bankers, people who have all these scams going on, pyramid scams, money market scams.

"Obviously those people are much better at it. One, they haven’t been caught, two they’re stealing billions, not millions. So I kind of smile. I might’ve been the youngest, but I don’t think the biggest of the best.”

Abagnale said falling in love and becoming a husband and father changed his ways.

“My wife changed my life, giving me three sons, five grandchildren, so family became a very big part of my life, that’s a big part of it and that’s really what changed my entire outlook on life," he said.

He said he regrets what he did.

“I would never want to live that life again," he said. "First of all, it was not glamorous. It was very lonely. I spent my time in hotel rooms, running from people chasing me. I was a teenage boy, I was scared. I was with a lot of people that didn’t speak my language.

"People that were 10 years older. I was always having to play a role of somebody else. It was not a way I would wish on my worst enemy.

"I’m also grateful I live in a country where you can make a mistake, pay your dues, and come out and turn your life around.

"Whether you are an alcoholic, no matter what your problem is, if you want to change your life, this is the country where you can change your life.”

He has spent the past 42 years training FBI agents at the FBI Academy. He is also a security consultant.

“I try to teach them to be more streetwise than what’s in books," he said. "You have to think like a criminal to catch a criminal. This is why a lot of my work today is going into technology companies, they develop the technology then I play chess with them and say I could beat you at this.

"They go back and fix it, then I say I could still do this. I’ve been an ambassador to AARP for about four years. Amazing to me ... 40 million members. All the crimes committed against elderly folks. They’ve gotten so sophisticated, people lose their homes, they lose their life savings.

"These scams where they befriend them on there as boyfriends eventually ask them for money. They’re older and lonely and giving money away.

"There are all these scams we want people to be aware of for example the grandparent scam. I’m a big believer education is the most powerful tool of fighting crime.

"If you educate people and say here’s how it’s done, here’s what to do.. the next time that phone rings, they are going to say I already know this scam.”

He told the gathering he writes about crimes of the future, trying to predict what the next generation will try to pull off.

“We will do away with passwords and usernames over the next couple of years," he said. "Through a new technology, which is supported by Microsoft and basically will allow us to use to identify ourselves, not having passwords. Passwords are a 1964 technology which we are using in 2018 so they should’ve been used a long time ago.”

He said he was relieved he was caught. And he is using his talents to help law enforcement and to help others.

“I like to do good with that, pass on to law enforcement so they have the ability to look at not black and white," he said.

He offered some tips.

“I don’t have a debit card. I have only used a credit card. That’s because the law gives me 100 percent free liability charged on my credit card," he said. "Even if someone got it tomorrow and charged a million dollars, I have no liability.

"If I buy something, they cover it. When you use debit card, your credit score goes nowhere, so young people use it for years and get out of college, they go to buy a car rent an apartment, no credit. When you use a credit card and pay it off.

He also offered social media tips.

"I’m not on any of it, but I tell people never want a straight photo of yourself on social media, like a passport photo," he said. "One, they will capture that picture and put that on identification and say they are you. Two, they can get into your Facebook page through facial recognition tools, then if you have told them on Facebook where you were born and your birthday, that’s 98 percent of stealing your identity, that’s all they really need to know.

"So I tell people if you’re going to have a picture, have a pic of you and your dog, you and your friends, you playing a sport, never a straight on photo of yourself.

"Of course, never tell anyone where you were born or date of birth. You’re just asking them to steal your identity.”

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