BURLINGTON, Vt.- Frank Abagnale posed as a pilot, lawyer and doctor, and was so good at it that he’s now considered one of the most respected experts on fraud in the world.
Abagnale turned his years of duping people into a presentation on how to spot and avoid scams, which he brought to South Burlington on Thursday.
“In an intercview, Abernale said he wrote $2.5 million in bad checks in all 50 states and 26 countries before he was old enough to drink.
But, he added, “It wasn’t a glamorous life by any means.”
That life of deception was the subject of an autobiography, ‘Catch Me If You Can’, which was later turned into a Hollywood film, directed by Steven Spielberg, and a Broadway musical.
It charted Abagnale’s life from high school dropout to a man who knew how to beat the system. He found work as a pilot for Pan Am with a fake pilot’s license, as a lawyer with a forged Harvard Law degree and as a pediatrician in a Georgia hospital.
“Everything I did, I kind of fell into, it wasn’t premeditated,” he said. “I think the fact that I was an adolescent is why I really got away with it, not because I was a genius or anything like that. Because I had no fear of being caught.”
The law finally caught up with Abagnale in France, when he 21. He was convicted and served prison sentences at Perpignan and in Sweden. After deportation, he was sentenced to 12 years in a US penitentiary.
Abagnale would only served four of those years.
“When I was 26 years-old, the government offered to take of prison on the condition I go to work with an agency of the federal government for the remainder of my sentence,” he said.
Abagnale took the offer and started working with the FBI. More than 40 years later, he is still helping the agency as a security consultant to field offices and a lecturer at the FBI Academy.
Five years ago, Abagnale teamed up with the AARP to help seniors avoid becoming victims of fraud. His advice?
“They’re always at some point going to ask you for money, or ask you for information,” he said. “That’s the red flag.
Greg Marchildon, AARP Vermont State Director, said seniors especially re vulnerable to fraud and scams.
“We hope all of our members walk out of there feeling armed with the kind of resources and understanding they need to protect themselves,” he said.