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Con Man Turned Fraud Expert Offers Tips to Avoid Scams

Reformed identity thief Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., spoke Tuesday at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township, Mich. (Frank Abagnale and Associates)
Reformed identity thief Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., spoke Tuesday at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township, Mich. (Frank Abagnale and Associates)
May 17, 2017

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Frank Abagnale spent his youth conning doctors, lawyers and even a major airline, and later spent 40 years using his experience to help the FBI track down scammers. On Tuesday night, he spoke to a Michigan audience about how to avoid falling victim.

Abagnale, now an ambassador for AARP's Fraud Watch Network, said scams haven't changed much over the years, but technology has made it easier for scammers to get away with it, often from the other side of the world.

"They're sitting in their pajamas in a kitchen on a laptop or with a telephone," he said, "so even when we know who's doing it, we don't have the legal ability to go over and arrest that person, no less convict them, charge them and send them to jail."

While it goes against most people's trusting nature, Abagnale said it pays to be a little skeptical - to question the motives and verify the identity of anyone who calls or emails asking for money. Abagnale's conversion from con-man to fraud expert was made famous in the Steven Spielberg movie "Catch Me If You Can."

One of the common scams he warns about targets grandparents, when a caller claims to be from the local police department, demanding money to get a grandchild out of jail. Abagnale said it's an example of how social media can leave people vulnerable.

"They got all that information off of Facebook. That's how they knew who your grandson was, they knew what school he went to, he knew their girlfriend's name," Abagnale said. "We give so much information away on Facebook that scam artists take that information, and that's what makes them so convincing."

Other popular scams include people posing by email or phone as IRS agents claiming you owe back taxes - or claiming to be from Microsoft, asking for access to your computer to remove malware. He said the best protection against all these is education.

"So, if you make it easy for someone to steal from you, you're probably going to end up being a victim," he said. "So you need to be a little smarter, a little wiser today, and you need to stop and verify."

He also advised hanging up as soon as a robo-call starts, and spreading the word to others when a scam hits your area.

More information is online at AARP.org/FraudWatchNetwork.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI