I have had people tell me I must be a genius. That there’s no other way to explain my ability, at such a young age, to forge years’ worth of documents and checks, to successfully pose as a doctor, a lawyer, a pilot. On the contrary, this is what I was: a teenage runaway bent on survival who very quickly surmised that a veneer of confidence and charm—when paired with the right clothes and paperwork—is all that’s needed to put one over on even the most sophisticated customer.
Most people are fundamentally honest, and it rarely occurs to them that someone might be trying to take advantage.
Here’s the even scarier part: When I committed my now famous (thank you, Steven Spielberg and Leo DiCaprio) acts of fraud nearly 50 years ago, it did at least require some serious resourcefulness and commitment. In order for me to forge checks, I had to get access to a Heidelberg printing press, a 90-foot-long, 18-foot-high behemoth that required three people to operate it. To eliminate the need for co-conspirators, I used scaffolding that I built on each side and my young legs to run back and forth the length of the press. Only then could I operate it myself.
ABAGNALE ATTENDS A 2003 EVENT FOR CATCH ME IF YOU CAN WITH LEONARDO DICAPRIO (WHO PLAYED A YOUNG ABAGNALE) AND TOM HANKS (WHO PLAYED FBI AGENT CARL HANRATTY). PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/ JOHN LI
I also had to learn about color separation, negatives, typesetting, and all the rest. And back then I had to guess where a company banked, its account number, how to make a likeness of its CEO’s signature—and pray that no one caught my mistakes until it was too late. In the years since, most of which I have spent as an FBI expert on security, such things have become infinitely easier to pull off.
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Most of the information required to forge almost any kind of document can be found through a quick internet search, and computers make the design process child’s play. Each piece of new technology in our lives has come with a corresponding security risk.
And yet, while the world has changed, human nature hasn’t. Most people are fundamentally honest, and it rarely occurs to them that someone might be trying to take advantage. This effect is magnified when a person—an investor extremely excited about a new business idea, a fervent collector looking for that one elusive piece—is subconsciously desperate for something to be the real deal. Might it be too good to be true? It wouldn’t take a genius to convince you otherwise.
— Frank Abagnale Jr.
Frank Abagnale Jr. is a security adviser for the FBI and private corporate clients worldwide. He wrote about the escapades of his youth inCatch Me If You Can , which was later adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg.
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This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com. * Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.