Frank Abagnale And His Life
In 1964, at the age of 16, after his parents divorced, Abagnale ran away to New York City, where he became known as the "Big Nale", later shortened to just "Big". He decided to exploit his mature appearance and alter his driver's license to make it appear that he was ten years older to get a job.
His first con was writing cheques on his own overdrawn account, an activity which he discovered was possible when he was forced to write cheques for more money than was in his bank account. This, however, would only work for a limited time before the bank demanded payment, so he moved on to opening other accounts in different banks, eventually creating new identities to sustain this. Over time he experimented and developed different ways of defrauding banks, such as printing out his own, almost perfect copies of cheques, and cashing them and persuading banks to advance him cash on the basis of money in his accounts, money which of course never materialised as the cheques depositing it were rejected. One famous trick of Abagnale's was to print his account number on blank deposit slips and add them to the stack of real blank slips in the bank. This meant that the deposits written on those slips by bank customers ended up going into his account rather than that of the legitimate customers. He collected over US$ 40,000 by this method before he was discovered.
For a period of two years Abagnale masqueraded as Pan Am pilot "Frank Williams", to get free rides around the world by dead heading (pilots get free trips to other cities around the world as a courtesy to other airlines when their company gives them short notice for a flight they must make) on scheduled airline flights. The first time he deadheaded he did not know where the seat was located. A stewardess had the privilege of showing Abagnale where it pulled out. He was able to make a counterfeit Pan Am ID card from a sample model and obtained a FAA pilot's certificate by buying a display plaque, which he had copied and resized down to ID card form. He also obtained a Pan Am pilot's uniform by pretending to be a genuine pilot who had lost his uniform.
Later, he impersonated a pediatrician in a Georgia hospital under the name "Frank Williams". After becoming friends with a real doctor, he became a resident supervisor as a favor for him until they found someone who could take the job. However, as a medical layman, Abagnale was nearly fired after almost letting a baby die of oxygen deprivation (he had no idea what the nurse meant when she said there was a "blue baby"). Abagnale was able to fake his way through most of his duties by letting the interns handle most of the cases that came in during his rather late night shift, such as setting broken bones and other such tasks. After 11 months, the hospital finally found another replacement and he left.
He also forged a Harvard University Law diploma, passed the bar exam of Louisiana and got a job at the office of the state attorney general of
He made it on the third try. In his biography, he described his legal job as a "gopher boy" who simply fetched coffee for his boss. However, there was a real Harvard graduate who also worked for that attorney general, and Abagnale resigned to protect himself.
He purports to have forged a Columbia University degree and taught sociology at Brigham Young University for a semester, although the university claims to have no record of such employment. Abagnale has been reported as saying elsewhere that he only worked as a teaching assistant.
At the end of the term, he moved to California and became engaged to a stewardess (named Rosalie in the books). To her, he disclosed his identity and everything else he had done. Rosalie promised not to tell, but when he went back, he spotted the police and realised that she had reneged on the deal. Abagnale again went on the run.
Over 5 years he worked under 8 identities, though he used many more to cash cheques, and passed bad cheques worth over $2.5 million in 26 countries. The money was used for a lifestyle in which he dated flight attendants, ate at expensive restaurants, bought expensive clothing, and prepared for his next con.
Eventually he was arrested in France in 1969 when an Air France attendant recognized his face from a wanted poster. When the French police apprehended him, all 26 of the countries in which he had committed fraud wanted him to be extradited. He first served six months in Perpignan's House of Arrest in
Then he was extradited to Sweden where he served a year in Malmö prison for forgery. Later, a judge revoked his United States passport and deported him to the
In 1974, the United States federal government released him on condition that he would help the federal authorities against fraud and scams—without pay. After his release, Abagnale tried several jobs, but finding them unsatisfying, he approached a bank with an offer. He explained to the bank what he had done, and offered to speak to the bank's staff and show various tricks that "paperhangers" use to defraud banks.
Abagnale made an offer to the bank that if they did not find his speech helpful, they owed him nothing; otherwise, they owed him $50 and would spread his name to other banks. Naturally, they were impressed, and he began a legitimate life as a consultant.
He later founded Abagnale & Associates, which advises the business world on fraud, and organizes lecture tours. Abagnale is now a multi-millionaire through his legal fraud detection and avoidance consulting business.
In 2002, Abagnale wrote The Art of the Steal. In the chapters, he listed common cons and ways to prevent consumers from being defrauded. He also talked about identity theft and the advent of Internet scamming.