Crime Prevention Tips From Famous Thief

By: CBS
By: CBS
Robbery

Robbery

(CBS) Former con artist turned FBI employee Frank Abagnale has come a long way from his conniving and clever youth - a story so compelling that even Steven Spielberg couldn't pass it up.

Spielberg's hit movie, "Catch Me If You Can," was based on Abagnale's life with Abagnale being played by Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

A business savvy chameleon, Abagnale beat the system by taking on false identities and mastering check forgery. He posed as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor and a Louisiana prosecutor. Before he was even 19 years old, he stole millions in what was considered one of the most fascinating cons in American history.

So convincing at his criminal craft, jail time wouldn't suffice, so the FBI recruited him instead. Thirty-four years later and still working for the FBI, Abganale is using his skills to catch thieves during Christmastime and a recession -- when desperate times call for desperate measures.

"I was very fortunate that it was Steven Spielberg, who made that film. I personally felt that he went out of his way not to glorify the things I did, but to simply tell the story about what I did," Abagnale told CBSNews.com.

"He (Spielberg) had a great actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, who was able to play a young boy - at 14, 16, 17 and 18, during the years I did those things, even though he was an adult, getting close to 30. I thought that he did a great job of portraying me in the film. In the end, I felt that he stayed very close to the story and he tried to be as accurate as he could. He changed very minor things. So in the end, my family and I were very pleased with the outcome of the movie," he added.

Although the Hollywood hype may have died down since the release of the film in 2002, Abagnale's mission has not.

He teaches at the FBI Academy as well as field offices around the country and during Christmastime he gives lectures to the public about check forgery, identity theft and fraud.

"At Christmastime one of the things is that we still write a lot checks and we write checks to pay our bills, so we still write about 39 billion checks a year that go through the fed system," he said.

Consequently, criminals are aware of this and take advantage of the situation. It’s as simple as driving by your house, going into your mailbox, taking out the remittance envelope and using a household chemical to remove who you made the check to while leaving you signature on it, according to Abagnale.

"They know that people aren't going to reconcile for at least 30 days. By the time they get their bank statement they've drained your bank account and they are long gone," he said.

According to Abagnale, there is a simple thing to do to avoid this. He suggests that people use a uni-ball pen, which uses a pigment ink, instead of a water-based or dye-based ink, so you can't wash it or change the information on it. They are available at any office supply store.

The second thing that you can do is to have a shredder, which comes in three different types - a ribbon, crisscross and a micro-cut shredder.

"A micro-cut shredder turns paper into confetti and the others slice it into paper that can be put back together and read. They are all about the same price, so if you are going to buy a shredder I would ask for a micro-cut shredder," he said.

Another defense mechanism against fraud is using more than one credit monitoring service to keep track of all transactions. He also suggests having the credit bureaus notify the customer in real time (by text, email or phone) and not 90 days by mail, which is too late.

Abagnale also says that he doesn’t write out a lot of checks or use a debit card.

“I am not exposing my money. My money sits in the bank and earns interest,” he said. “With credit card companies, you have zero liability and even if someone charges a million dollars. The credit card companies' money is at risk.”

With color scanners, copiers, Myspace, Facebook and chat rooms, check forgery, identity theft and fraud is much easier now than it was when Abagnale was conning.

"It’s amazing today for young kids. I think that is what makes my jobs interesting today. Crime unfortunately is getting a lot easier, you have to be more aware,” he said. "You can't really rely on the police; you can't rely on the government and you can't rely on the bank to protect you. You have to be a little smarter and a little wiser consumer today than say, 30 years ago.”

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