Real-life “Catch Me If You Can” con artist comes to JU

Misha Khan

Frank William Abagnale Jr., is perhaps one of the world’s most esteemed figures on the subject matter involving forgery, fraud and embezzlement. For more than 30 years Abagnale has worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help catch some of the United States’ most notorious forgery criminals.  However, he did not take a special course at a prestigious university to learn ways to catch a swindler. No, Frank Abagnale himself was a world-renowned, notorious fraudster. At various points in his life, he posed as an airline pilot, a doctor, a teaching assistant and even a lawyer while embezzling approximately $2.5 million in bad checks, all before the age of 21.

Abagnale was born in April 1948 in New Rochelle, New York. He had a decent childhood and was very close to his parents, especially his father. In 1964, however, his parents divorced and Frank’s life took an unexpected turn. His father bought him a 1952 Ford so he could get a part-time job.  Frank Jr. had other plans. Like every other teenager, he was girl-crazy and noticed that the more money he had, the more dates he had.  Still, the divorce proved too much for Frank to handle and he ran away to New York City at the young age of 16.

Once in the big city, Frank learned the difficulties of earning a decent wage. Yet through his intelligence, he figured out a way to forge his driver’s license by adding 10 years to his age. Still unable to make a decent living for himself, he turned to his checkbook. Upon noticing an airline pilot and some stewardesses having a pleasant time outside a hotel in New York, Frank had a brilliant revelation. He was able to acquire a genuine Pan American Airlines pilot uniform. He was able to get free trips around the world this way. Also using a toy Pan Am airplane, he was able to peel off the logo and use it to cash in more checks posing as co-pilot “Frank Williams.” The police were closing on his trail though and he decided to settle down in Atlanta for a while.

He then posed as Dr. Frank Williams and began working as a resident supervisor. He left work after almost letting a baby die due to oxygen deprivation. He then moved to Louisiana where he posed as a Harvard Law graduate and began working for the district attorney. Afraid of being caught by another Harvard graduate at the firm, he faked a Columbia University degree and worked as a teaching assistant for Brigham Young University for a semester. At the end of the term, he moved to California and fell in love with a girl. They decided to get married and he disclosed his identity to her. She then told the FBI and Frank found himself on the run again landing in France where he was finally arrested and eventually sent back to the US.

Over the span of five years, he used eight identities and passed bad checks worth over $2.5 million in 26 countries. The money was used for a lifestyle where he dated flight attendants, ate at expensive places, bought expensive clothing and set the wheels for his next con. Abagnale was a talented young man who made the most of everything he had.  He used his skills,  his wit and his charm to win people over on a daily basis.

Abagnale is now a self-made millionaire and owns Abagnale and Associates, a firm that has helped more than 14,000 financial institutions prevent against fraud. His life story eventually captured the interest of Hollywood leading to the production of the film “Catch Me If You Can”, directed by Steven Spielberg outlining the events of his life as a con man. Frank Abagnale Jr. is coming to Jacksonville University to speak about his life, the ups and downs. I encourage everyone to go listen to the true forgery master talk at the Terry Concert Hall at 7 p.m., Feb. 3.