A man most known for the crimes and deception he committed as a young boy between the ages of 16 and 18 years old, Frank Abagnale fooled the public into believing he was 10 years older than he actually was. With creativity, he created opportunities for himself to survive, although those opportunities were not always lawful. He convinced the public that he was a flight attendant, a doctor, and even passed the bar after an 8 week study course in Louisiana. Some would say he had a gift and brilliance, he simply believes he was young, foolish, and trying to survive. Most people may know this part of his life story as depicted in the blockbuster, "Catch Me If You Can", but Frank doesn't define his life like that.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of watching Frank speak in my backyard, the local performing arts center that held my high school gradation. He had charisma, showed great humility as well as a fantastic sense of humor. Today, he defines himself by what he has done in the last 32 years as an FBI agent trying to defy the very type of criminal he once was. At 16 years old, Frank walked into a courtroom and up to a judge, who quickly read from a sheet of paper that his parents were getting a divorce, and he must choose which parent with whom he wanted to live. Frank turned around and ran out the door, this was the beginning of his adventure. He was quick witted and learned that in order to be believable in any disguise he tried, he had to be knowledgeable - talking and walking as every other member of that profession did.
After years of looking over his shoulder, Frank eventually got caught. He spent years in a French prison, followed by a Swedish prison, and lastly, resided in an American prison until he was finally offered a job at the FBI for the duration of his prison sentence. He has spent 32 years at the FBI and met his wife there with not a dollar to his name. He claims who he is today is because of her, because of his sons, and because of the crimes he's been able to stop. He has never been proud of the crimes he committed.
On that note - here are a couple of tips I picked up to help protect you from identity theft:
1. Write as few checks as possible. In today's world, information is open for the taking. Just think, your check contains your name, address, phone number, and often your driver's license number and birthrate are written on the check. That's a lot of information to be in public view, so instead, it's suggested that you use plastic, but not debit cards. Debit cards are similar to using cash and in a crisis, it's hard to get that money returned if it is stolen. Conversely, credit cards are actually using the credit card company's money, while your money sits in the bank and earns interest. Pay the CC off at the end of the month and get a card that gives you something back. This, in his opinion, is a safer way to pay for things. You can dispute charges or cancel and change credit card numbers should you be a victim of identity theft. Meanwhile, with each on time payment, you're actually building your credit score and history.
2. Shred. It doesn't matter what it is, but most mail provides more information than you expect. At the least, own a cross cut shredder, but for highly sensitive information, a micro-shredder is preferred. The average cross-cut shredded page can be pieced together by the FBI in 8 hours.
3. Keep your social security number private. Federal law states that you only need to disclose your SSN to the federal government, your employer, and yourself. You must also disclose it when you are receiving a line of credit, so if someone who is not one of those entities and who is not giving you a line of credit requests it, you may decline disclosure.
4. Be weary of who is asking for information. Frank gave us a quick version of theft 101. When people call asking for wiring instructions, be weary of who they are, what they intend on wiring you, and why. Otherwise, you are simply giving them your bank account information, including account number. The information is out there and often free, so if you are not the one initiating the call, follow your intuition.
Overall, Frank seems to be an incredibly smart man. I feel fortunate that I got to hear his story, told his way.
Frank has 3 boys and is proud to say that he is their "daddy". He emphasized that each child is entitled to a father and a mother, which echoes my mother's comments of it's the parents that mess up their kids.