Mar 102009
Authors: Stephen Lin

Frank Abagnale, one of America’s greatest con men, knows a thing or two about identity theft.

More than 35 years ago, Abagnale successfully impersonated a pilot, a doctor, a professor and a lawyer, having his misadventures chronicled in the 2002 movie “Catch Me if You Can.”

After being arrested for his crimes and spending four years in prison, Abagnale was released on the condition that he would work on preventing identity theft, embezzlement and forgery for the FBI.

Part of the Fort Collins organization Beet Street’s Thought Leader’s series, Abagnale came to the Lincoln Center Tuesday to share his insight on the world of identity theft.

The former convict estimated that one person has their identity stolen every four seconds and shared several tips on how to avoid becoming one of the statistics: get a shredder to destroy documents with personal information, find a reliable company that protects and monitors your credit and use credit cards instead of writing checks.

Also, Abagnale recommended that people use a single credit card for all their purchases, saying credit card companies would be liable rather than the cardholder for any fraudulent purchases.

Abagnale also warned of social networking Web sites like Facebook and MySpace, saying, “Be very careful about the information you give away.”

Abagnale shared his real-life experiences with identity theft to the crowd of about 200 Fort Collins residents and students.

At age 16, Abagnale ran away from home during his parents divorce, surviving on fraudulent checks.

Afraid that his crimes would catch up with him, Abagnale started impersonating a Pan American Airline co-pilot after seeing an airplane flight crew on the streets of New York. He acquired a uniform, badge, the terminology and a license.

Before his capture, Abagnale took Pan Am for one million free miles in travel, cashed fake checks in banks all over the world, posed as a pediatrician and passed the Louisiana bar for law.

At age 21, Abagnale was arrested, something he said was inevitable.

“The law sometimes sleeps, but it never dies,” Abagnale said.

After recounting his years of crime, Abagnale spoke proudly about his service to the FBI for 30 years after his legal requirement of five years.

But Abagnale stressed to the men in the audience that they should be good husbands and be faithful to their wives, their children and their country.

“The world is full of fathers, but only a few who are daddys,” Abagnale said.

Crime beat reporter Stephen Lin can be reached at

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