Con man to security expert: Frank Abagnale shares his story

Local News

Frank Abagnale spent years running from authorities and committing forgery. Now he is considered authority on cyber security.

As a speaker for Purdue Fort Wayne’s Omnibus lecture series, Abagnale wanted to send a message of redemption.

“I think there’s a message in the talk that I think people walk away with about being able to redeem your life and redemption and starting your life over,” Abagnale said.

From when he was 16 until he was 21, Abagnale wrote bad checks, posed as a lawyer, a doctor and a pilot. While posing as a pilot, he managed to fly about one million miles and board 260 aircraft in 26 different countries, all as a complete fraud.

He was finally arrested in France when he was 21. French authorities convicted him of forgery. When he finished his sentence there, he was extradited to Sweden, where he was again convicted on forgery charges. He served out his sentence in Sweden before being transferred to the United States where he was convicted of forgery again and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He served four of those twelve years before agreeing to waive his remaining sentence in exchange for working with the FBI to fight forgery. He has now been working with the FBI without pay for 42 years.

“Of course they always offer ‘I’ll pay your airfare. I’ll pay your hotel.'” said Abagnale. “I don’t accept it. I don’t need to, and it’s my way of paying back my government for giving me the opportunities it’s given me.”

Instead, Abagnale makes a living off technologies he has created that banks and other organizations use to protect themselves from forgery.

Abaganale says he is appreciative that he lives in a country that “gives you a chance to turn your life around.” He is more proud of what has happened to him after getting out of prison than how he was able to avoid authorities for so long when he was a teenager.

“So it’s kind of amazing to me . When people look back on my life, I’m 70, they’re amazed at what I did between 16 and 21,” Abagnale said. “I, at 70, look back on my life and am absolutely amazed at what happened in my life after that. I’ve been married to my one and only wife for 40 plus years, have three great sons and five grandchildren.”

Despite people being more away of forgery scams, Abagnale says it’s more important now  to have your identity secure than when he was a teenager.

“It’s actually 4,000 times easier to do today than what I did 50 years ago,” he said. “I didn’t have all the technology that’s available today.”

Abagnale said he had to go to eight months of school to learn how to operate a Heidelberg printing press. Now with a laptop, he says he could forge a check in 15 minutes.

The biggest piece of advice he could give to keep you identity safe was to freeze your account, meaning only you would be able to see your account.

At the end of September, a new ;law will go into effect that will allow people to freeze their accounts for free.

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