"I was lucky enough to find someone who believed in me... That's what changed me."
Frank William Abagnale Jr., also known by countless aliases, including "The Skywayman", is a former con artist active in 26 countries and all 50 U.S. states.
Abagnale was born in Bronxville, New York. His father, Frank Abagnale, Sr., met his wife, French-born Paulette, while stationed in Algiers during WWII and became a successful stationery store owner back home. The two had three sons, including Abagnale, and one daughter together. His childhood was good until his teens when his parents separated and eventually divorced and his father got custody of him. The two moved out of Bronxville together and were very close. Frank Sr. would often bring him to high-profile gatherings. When Abagnale became interested in women, he committed the first in a long line of frauds. Frank Sr. lent him his credit card so he could purchase car supplies. Abagnale used this window of opportunity to get money by making deals with gas station employees to falsely bill him for supplies, keeping the money he "spent" for himself. After a while, Frank Sr. got a bill for thousands of dollars. Abagnale spent a year in a private school for delinquent boys and was briefly affiliated with a pack of juvenile delinquents, committing small acts of theft and shoplifting with them, but broke off his ties with them soon. When Mr. and Mrs. Abagnale finally divorced, Abagnale, then 16 years old, left home and became an international con artist and forger.
Crimes, Captures and Later Life
Abagnale's first major cons were simple check frauds. Starting with his own, he would open bank accounts using false names, write out checks for it after they were overdrawn and disappear before he could be caught. He later began using other methods to con money out of banks, such as placing deposit slips with his bank account number written on them in the pile of unused ones. When he left home, aged 16, Abagnale headed for New York, and continued writing bad checks. He got a job as a pilot for Pan American World Airways, using the name "Frank Williams", by lying about his age, having added ten years to the birthdate on his driver's license. They later estimated that by the time he was 18, he had flown 1,000,000 miles on over 250 flights, been to 26 different countries and committed fraud in several of them, simply by "deadheading" (an airline term for when airplane staff ride on the plane without working in order to perform some task elsewhere). He also billed the company for food and stays at hotels and had several brief relationships with stewardesses and other women he met. When he had a brush with the law after disembarking a flight, he realized that his cover was compromised and fled to Atlanta, Georgia, where he got a job as a pediatrician. Because he was hired as a supervising doctor, he was not expected to actually perform any medical procedures and managed to use humor to cover up his lack of medical knowledge. One day when a young child was brought in with a leg injury, the seriousness of Abagnale's new position became much more apparent to him. He managed to get the child treated by enlisting some interns. There was another known incident during his time at the hospital when he could have caused serious harm. An infant almost suffocated to death when he failed to respond; the nurse told him there was a "blue baby", a term for a baby born with some condition that causes them to suffer from a lack of oxygen in the tissue. When he came to realize that he could seriously endanger lives by posing as a doctor, he quit his job when a replacement was found.
He found a new career as a lawyer in Louisiana, forging a Harvard law degree and actually passing the bar exam in order to get a license to practice. He got a position in the attorney general's corporate law division, though he claims in his biography that all he really did was get things for his boss. When he one day met another lawyer who actually had graduated from Harvard and started asking him questions, he was afraid that his cover would be blown and fled again, this time to Utah, where he spent a semester teaching sociology as a teacher's assistant, having forged a Columbia University degree. In 1969, at 21 years old, Abagnale was arrested in France when an Air France employee he had dated in the past recognized him and reported him. Investigators from 12 countries in which he had committed fraud, including the U.S., were there to have him extradited. He spent six months in the harsh Perpignan's House of Arrest in France, having originally been sentenced to a whole year, and another six months in a considerably better conditioned prison in Malmö, Sweden. When Abagnale's passport was revoked, he was extradited back to the U.S., where he was sentenced to 12 years in a federal prison for several counts of forgery. In 1974, four years into his sentence, Abagnale was paroled from the Federal Correction Institution in Petersburg, Virginia when he agreed to assist the authorities in capturing other con artists. He held down a few other jobs, but was fired from all of them when his employers found out about his criminal past. He then approached a bank and offered to show them some tricks used by forgers in exchange for $500 and them telling other banks about his services. That became the start of his career as a security consultant and he soon founded Abagnale & Associates, which advises companies on fraud and of which he is currently CEO. He is still in contact with the FBI and lectures at the Academy. He is also a published author, having written an autobiography titled Catch Me If You Can as well as books about fraud, is married and has three children and lives in South Carolina. Today, more than 14 000 law enforcement agencies, financial institutions and corporations all over the world use his fraud prevention programs.
Abagnale's cons were often check frauds, usually targeted at banks or other companies. From time to time, he also got a legitimate job by forging credentials. He was also known to use disguises as part of a ruse and was a master of manipulation; he once even eluded capture by posing as a federal agent. One of his most famous cons was using a security guard uniform to steal cash meant to go into drop boxes in which companies placed their proceedings, having put a sign on the box saying it was out of service and telling attendants to hand the money bags to the attending security guard (he later voiced his astonishment that it worked: "How can a drop box be out of service?").
- Abagnale's autobiography, Catch Me If You Can, was somewhat loosely adapted into a movie, which was released in 2002; in it, he is played by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Abagnale himself makes a cameo as a French police officer.
On Criminal Minds
Abagnale was mentioned in Penelope, where Reid compared Garcia to him in the sense that both were highly talented criminals who were recruited by the FBI after being caught.