Catching Up With Frank Abagnale, part 2
By Felix Winternitz
Regarding his stunning turnabout and new attitude on life, Abagnale is quick to clarify for his audience: “I was not born again. I was not rehabilitated in prison. The truth is, God gave me a wife. She gave me three beautiful children and gave me everything I am today.”
These days, he finds himself a spokesperson for such unlikely alliances as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, for their “Stop. Call. Confirm” campaign to fight fake insurance, and World Wings International, the philanthropic arm of the association for former Pan Am flight attendants.
An unpaid consultant to the FBI, Abagnale offers free lectures to law enforcement field offices, even as his paid services are continually sought after by wealthy Fortune 500 clients such as Target and Intuit.
“Crime is constantly changing,” he says about the prospect of crime-fighting in a paperless world. “What I did 40 years ago is 4,000 times easier now.” Cyber-theft, online bilking, easy desktop printing techniques, all contribute to the massive and continuing deceptions. “For me to print counterfeits back then, I had to have a huge Heidelberg press.
“What I did in my youth is hundreds of times easier today. Technology breeds crime,” he continues. “Today, all I’d have to do is open a laptop and pick a victim.”
How slick is Abagnale? As one FBI expert puts it: “Frank Abagnale could write a check on toilet paper, drawn on the Confederate States Treasury, sign it ‘U.R. Hooked’ and cash it at any bank in any town, using a Hong Kong driver’s license for identification.”
Among the many ironies that have played through Abagnale’s life as morality tale is the fact that his eldest son has become an actual FBI counter-terrorism agent in Baltimore.
The elder Abagnale, meanwhile, has lived to see his life turn around, from the depths of isolation in a prison cell to the heights of business success. During a question-and-answer session with students following the Cintas Center presentation, he delivered these thoughts regarding the miracle of redemption, the impact of education and ethics, and how he finally found the courage to grow up and become a family man:
“We’re living in a society now where ethics go out the door, and so goes character.”
“We will never put a dent into crime until we address ethics and character.”
“Schools don’t give ethical training, and consequently, students emerge making bad decisions.”
[More wisdom from Frank Abagnale]
“There’s a proper way to prevent fraud and a wrong way to do things. I find that in all breaches—most recently MasterCard and VISA, Boston College, and so on—I find that it’s not masterminds that break into systems. It’s the fault of employees at that company who bend the rules and go to other forbidden web sites and open a door into their own systems.”
Abagnale hammers down a warning that counterfeits and illicit clones will only continue to disrupt the national economy while identity theft runs rampant. The Internet is just the beginning.
“If you happen to mention to me where you were born and your date of birth, I’m 98 percent on the way to becoming you,” the con man warns students. He’s particularly wary of the perils inherent in the Facebook Generation: “Your identity is one of the few things you have left. So take care. Stop giving out information.”
He has another message for young students: “I’m a true believer that we all learn from other people’s mistakes. And what mistakes you make in life now, you have to live with for a long time.”
All this, perhaps, making Frank W. Abagnale Jr. a certified “ethics hero”—and something of a genuine article.
[Return to part one]