Frank Abagnale biography
Frank Abagnale became notorious for impersonating a pilot, a doctor, and a laywer while in his early 20s. He was arrested at 21 by the French police, and later hired by the FBI to teach them his fradulent tricks. He started his own consultating agency, educating corporations, financial institutions and government agencies.
Frank Abagnale Jr. was born on April 27, 1948, in Bronxville, New York. He was one of four children born to parents Frank Abagnale Sr. and Paulette Abagnale. The couple met in Algiers during World War II, while Frank Sr. was stationed in Oran. After the war, they moved to New York, where Frank started a stationery business on Madison Avenue.
Frank Jr. had a happy childhood, and was especially close to his father. When his mother decided unexpectedly to leave his father, however, the young Frank's life was turned upside-down. Not only were his siblings devastated, but so was his father, who was still very much in love with his wife. Frank Jr. decided to live with his father after the divorce, and he often tagged along on his dad's business dealings. It was during this time that Frank Jr. learned a lot about white collar businesses.
As a teenager, Frank Abagnale got caught up in petty crimes, including shoplifting. He soon grew tired of this practice, though, and decided to move into more sophisticated forms of burglary. Specifically, Abagnale began using his father's gas credit card to make a tidy profit. Frank Jr. then convinced gas station attendants to give him a portion of his sale back in cash, and allowed them to pocket a portion of the proceeds. The scam fell apart, though, when Frank's father got the credit card bill, which topped several thousand dollars.
The incident caused havoc in the family; his father's business was struggling financially, and Frank's scheme set his father back even further. Tired of his son's delinquency, Frank Sr. sent his son to a private school for wayward boys. But school didn't stick with the young Abagnale, who left home at 16 to make his own living.
Abagnale left home with $200 in his bank account and no formal education. Using his knowledge of the stationery business, Frank altered his driver’s license to make himself 10 years older than he was, and exaggerated his education. This helped him get better-paying jobs, but he still barely made ends meet.
Using his checkbook, Frank decided to quit his job and write bad checks to support himself. Before long, Abagnale had written hundreds of bad checks and had overdrawn his account by thousands of dollars. Knowing that he would eventually be caught, he decided it was time to go into hiding.
Frank realized that he could cash more bad checks if he dazzled bank tellers with a new, more impressive personality. He decided pilots were highly respected professionals, so he schemed his way into getting a pilot's uniform. Abagnale called Pan American Airlines' headquarters and told them that he had lost his uniform while traveling.
HQ told him where to go to pick up a new one, which he did—and charged it to the company using a fake employee ID.
Abagnale then cleverly forged his own pilot's ID and FAA license, and then learned all he could about flying—once, by pretending he was a student doing a research paper on Pan Am, and later through stewardesses he dated while in uniform. His ruse earned him valuable information about how to impersonate a pilot, which he did in order to hitch rides on planes all across the world.
Once Pan Am and police began catching on to Abagnale's lies, he decided to change identities again, this time becoming an out-of-town doctor taking a sabbatical in Atlanta, Georgia. When a local doctor came visiting, Abagnale thought his identity was blown—but instead he was invited to visit the local hospital, where he became a regular vistor. He used their medical library to bone up on his new role as a pediatrician, and his inquisitiveness and bedside manner landed him a temporary job supervising medical interns during the night shift. He was then promoted to resident supervisor, and given authorization to temporarily practice medicine in the state of Georgia. When his fraud nearly cost the life of a child, Frank gave up the gig and left town.
Over the next two years, Abagnale bounced from job to job—passing the bar as a legal assistant in Louisiana; teaching sociology at Brigham Young; and pretending he was a film director. But eventually, Abagnale's past caught up with him when he settled down in Montpelier, France. He had just defrauded banks across the country for more than $300,000, and decided to iive a straight life for awhile. When a former girlfriend recognized his face on a Wanted poster, she turned him in to authorities.
Imprisonment and Later Life
Abagnale served time in France, Sweden and the United States for his crimes. Frank was eventually granted parole by the United States when he was 26. In exchange, the government told Abagnale that he had to educate them about his methods, in order to prevent others from defrauding the government. Frank worked for the FBI for more than 30 years as one of the world’s foremost authorities on document fraud, check swindling, forgery and embezzlement. He also started his own company, Abagnale & Associates, which educates others on how to avoid becoming fraud victims. Abagnale also wrote the books The Art of the Steal and Stealing Your Life, both about fraud prevention.
In 2002, Steven Spielberg made a film about Abagnale's life, Catch Me If You Can, based on Abagnale's 1980 book by the same name. Leonardo DiCaprio starred as the famous imposter in the film. The film inspired a Broadway musical version of Abagnale's life, which hit theaters in 2011.