Frank William Abagnale, Jr. (born April 27, 1948) is an American security consultant, and former check confidence trickster, forger and impostor. He became infamous in the 1960s for passing bad checks worth about $2.5 million in 26 countries over the course of 5 years. During this time, he used at least eight aliases to cash bad checks.
Abagnale's life story provided the inspiration for the feature film Catch Me if You Can, based on his ghostwritten biography of the same name. As of 2008 he runs Abagnale and Associates, a financial fraud consultancy company.
One of Abagnale's famous tricks was to print his account number on blank deposit slips and add them to the stack of real blank slips in the bank. This meant that the deposits written on those slips by bank customers ended up going into his account rather than that of the legitimate customers. He took in over $40,000 by this method before he was discovered. By the time the bank began looking into his case, Abagnale had collected all the money and had already changed his identity.
In his biography, he described the premise of his legal job as a "gopher boy" who simply fetched coffee and books for his boss. However, there was a real Harvard graduate who also worked for that attorney general, and he hounded him with questions about his tenure at Harvard. Naturally, Abagnale could not answer questions about a university he had never attended, and he later resigned after eight months to protect himself, after learning the suspicious graduate was making inquiries into his background.
He was then extradited to Sweden where he was treated fairly well under Swedish law. During trial for forgery, his defense attorney almost had his case dismissed by arguing that he had "created" the fake checks and not forged them, but his charges were instead reduced to swindling and fraud. He served six months in a Malmö prison, only to learn at the end of it he would be tried next in Italy. Later, a Swedish judge asked a U.S. State Department official to revoke his passport. Without a valid passport Swedish authorities were forced to deport him to the U.S. He was sentenced to 12 years in a federal prison for multiple counts of forgery.
Before being sentenced to 12 years in the Federal Correction Institution at Petersburg, Virginia, in April 1971, Abagnale also purportedly escaped the Federal Detention Center in Atlanta, Georgia while awaiting trial, which he considers in his book to be one of the most infamous escapes in history. During the time, U.S. prisons were being condemned by civil rights groups and investigated by congressional committees. In a stroke of luck that included the accompanying U.S. marshal forgetting his detention commitment papers, Abagnale was mistaken for an undercover prison inspector and was even given privileges and food far better than the other inmates. The FDC in Atlanta had already lost two employees as a result of reports written by undercover federal agents, and Abagnale took advantage of their vulnerability. He contacted a friend (called in his book "Jean Sebring") who posed as his fiancee and slipped him the business card of "Inspector C.W. Dunlap" of the Bureau of Prisons which she had obtained by posing as a freelance writer doing an article on "fire safety measures in federal detention centers". She also handed over a business card from "Sean O'Riley" (later revealed to be Joseph Shea), the FBI agent in charge of Abagnale's case, which she doctored at a stationery print shop. Abagnale told the guards that he was indeed a prison inspector and handed over Dunlap's business card as proof. He told them that he needed to contact FBI agent, Sean O'Riley, on a matter of urgent business. O'Riley's phone number was dialed and picked up by Jean Sebring, at a payphone in an Atlanta shopping-mall, posing as an operator at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Later, he was allowed to meet unsupervised with O'Riley in a predetermined car outside the detention center. Sebring, incognito, picked Abagnale up and drove him to an Atlanta bus station where he took a Greyhound bus to New York, and soon thereafter, a train to Washington D.C.. Abagnale bluffed his way through an attempted capture by posing as an FBI agent after being recognized by a motel registration clerk. Still bent on making his way to Brazil, Abagnale was picked up a few weeks later by two New York City police detectives when he inadvertently walked past their unmarked police car.
After his release Abagnale tried several jobs, including cook, grocer and movie projectionist, but he was fired from most of these upon having his criminal career discovered via background checks and not informing his employers that he was a former convict. Finding them unsatisfying, he approached a bank with an offer. He explained to the bank what he had done, and offered to speak to the bank's staff and show various tricks that "paperhangers" use to defraud banks.
That same year, Abagnale made an offer to the bank that if they did not find his speech helpful, they owed him nothing; otherwise, they owed him $500 and would spread his name to other banks. Naturally, they were very impressed, and he began a legitimate life as a security consultant.
He later founded Abagnale & Associates, which advises the business world on fraud. Through this system, he raised enough money to pay back all those he scammed over his criminal career. Abagnale is now a millionaire through his legal fraud detection and avoidance consulting business based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Abagnale also continues to advise the FBI, with whom he has associated for over 30 years, by teaching at the FBI Academy and lecturing for FBI field offices throughout the country. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with his wife, whom he married one year after becoming legitimate. They have three sons, one of whom is a lawyer.
In 1977, Abagnale appeared on the TV quiz show To Tell the Truth, along with two contestants also presenting themselves as him. Clips from this episode appeared in Catch Me if You Can interspersed with new footage featuring actor Leonardo DiCaprio in his place.
In the early 1990s, Abagnale featured as a recurring guest on the UK Channel 4 television series Secret Cabaret. The show was based around magic and illusions with a sinister, almost gothic presentation style. Abagnale featured as an expert exposing various confidence tricks.
Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed Abagnale in the 2002 Steven Spielberg film Catch Me if You Can. The film is based on his exploits as described in his book of the same name (ISBN 978-0-7679-0538-1), but alters many aspects of his life story for dramatic purposes.
Abagnale had a bit part in Catch Me if You Can as one of the French police officers taking his character into custody.
In 2002, Abagnale wrote The Art of the Steal. In the chapters, he listed common confidence tricks and ways to prevent consumers from being defrauded. He also talked about identity theft and the advent of Internet scamming.