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Reformed Identity Thief Helps Mainers Avoid Being Scam Victims

A former identity thief turned fraud expert, Frank Abagnale, Jr. (L) shares tips with Mainers at USM Portland to help them avoid becoming fraud victims. (Carol Brooks)
A former identity thief turned fraud expert, Frank Abagnale, Jr. (L) shares tips with Mainers at USM Portland to help them avoid becoming fraud victims. (Carol Brooks)
April 24, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine — He conned bank tellers, doctors, lawyers and a major airline and last week, reformed identity thief Frank Abagnale shared tips with Mainers on how to avoid becoming scam victims.

Abagnale spent 40 years helping the FBI catch scammers, and now consults as an ambassador for AARP's Fraud Watch Network. He said incidents of fraud jumped by 16 percent in 2016 - and Mainers need to be alert whenever they get a pitch by email or phone.

"They don't have a deceptive mind, so when their phone rings and it says on the caller ID that it's the Internal Revenue Service, or the police department, they believe that's true,” Abagnale said. "So, I always tell people you have to do what Ronald Reagan said - that is, to 'trust and verify.'"

Abagnale's conversion from con-man to fraud expert was made famous in the Steven Spielberg movie "Catch Me If You Can." He told a crowd at USM in Portland about the current crop of scams - including people posing as IRS agents - and offered tips to avoid them, .

Although the deadline has just passed for filing federal tax returns, Jane Margesson with AARP Maine said that doesn't mean scammers are taking a time-out. She said they're still busy looking for ways to steal personal identities and income tax refunds.

"There's a reason that the IRS scam is one of the top scams in the country - it's because it's working. And while it balloons during tax season, it's actually a scam that we're seeing all the time, all year round."

Abagnale said the best way anyone can 'trust and verify,' is to be aware of red flags that are almost always part of every scam.

"Anyone who's trying to rush you - 'You have to pay this today, you have to do this immediately, you have to give me an answer right away' - is all the red flags that are telling you that this is probably a scam,” he said.

To help Mainers who want to protect their personal information, AARP is holding free shredding events in Augusta, Bangor and Portland at the end of the month. There's more information about those events and the Fraud Watch Network at AARP.org/ME.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME