"It's amazing to me that we live in such a wonderful country where anyone can have a problem in life and get up, dust themselves off and start all over again."
Undoubtedly one of the most famous fraudsters of all time, Frank William Abagnale Jr. managed to assume no fewer than eight different identities throughout his infamous career. Later to work as a licensed physician and even an attorney with a Harvard degree, Abagnale, at the age of just 16, managed to bypass vetting from Pan Am Airlines to work as an airline pilot. Although he never flew a plane throughout his time with Pan Am, he did manage to make them foot the bill for his luxury hotel suites and four-course meals.
Like many other con-men before him, though, Frank Abagnale paid dearly for his deceit. In 1969, he was outed by an Air France flight attendant that he dated during his time as a pilot, and spent the next six months in a French prison in Montpellier. He spent six more months in a Swedish prison only to be extradited back to the United States, where he served an additional 12 years in a federal prison on multiple counts of forgery.
You’ll be familiar with all this if you’ve seen Catch Me if You Can, but what you might not know is that since his release, Frank has turned over a new leaf and is applying his skills for good. After serving only 5 years of his full sentence, he was released on the condition that he help the federal government as a pro-bono consultant on crimes committed by fraudsters and scam artists.
"I was very blessed it was Steven Spielberg who made the movie. He was very much into the redemption side of the story. They asked him in an interview why he had owned the rights to this story for 20 years before he made the movie, and he said, 'I wanted to see what the real Frank Abagnale did with his life before I immortalised him on film."
How all this came to be is perhaps the most incredible part; upon becoming eligible for parole, Abagnale worked a number of jobs – for a while he even worked as a cook –, but was soon fired from each. With little in terms of career prospects, Frank Abagnale approached a local bank in Texas where he asked to deliver a speech about methods he used to defraud banks. He suggested they pay him $500 only if his advice was useful – not only did they find it useful, but they also referred him to other banks. To this day, Frank Abagnale works as a full-time security consultant for banks across the globe, helping them stop fraudsters in their tracks.
"I contend that there really are no more con men. There's no need for con men anymore. There's no need for the very sophisticated, suave guy, the well-dressed guy. Today, you steal with the computer from thousands of miles away - from China, from Libya, from Hong Kong. Your victim's never going to see you, so there's no need to be any of that."
But in today’s world this could never happen.
Sources: The Telegraph, TIME Magazine