“Catch Me If You Can” Former Scammer Talks Cybersecurity
In his new book, “Scam Me If You Can:
Simple Strategies to Outsmart Today’s
Rip-off Artists,” Frank Abagnale explains
how new, remarkably useful technologies
have, at the same time, made scams and
cybercrime easier to execute. All proceeds from the book go to AARP, which
commissioned him to write it.
Punished for posing as an airline pilot,
doctor, lawyer, FBI agent and more, and
for cashing $2.5 million in forged checks
in 27 countries, Abagnale served four
years of a 12-year jail sentence.
Imprisonment was reduced by his
becoming an unpaid consultant to
the FBI. Later, he opened Abagnale &
Associates, which has advised on fraud
prevention to more than 14,000 financial institutions, corporations and law
enforcement agencies. Investment Advisor
recently interviewed Abagnale. Here are
highlights of our conversation:
ThinkAdvisor: A survey by Putnam
Investments found that 98% of
financial advisors use LinkedIn for
personal and business purposes. Do
scammers target people on LinkedIn?
Frank Abagnale: LinkedIn is just another
Has the internet increased the amount
link in how scammers get information
about you. Let’s say your profile indi-
cates that you graduated from New York
University. I go to that website for the
year you graduated, look at the yearbook
and see who you befriended. Maybe you
married a girl you met there; so I can see
your wife’s maiden name. Every piece
of information leads to another piece of
and frequency of scams?
It’s made scams so easy, plus it’s so
global. Most of the scams I wrote about
involve some guy sitting in his pajamas
sipping a cup of coffee at his laptop in
his kitchen in Moscow. But we don’t have
the ability to go there and arrest the guy,
charge him with a crime and bring him
back to the U.S. That’s why you have to
be a smarter consumer and wiser business person today.
So “think like a predator,” you
recommend. Please explain.
In every scam, no matter how sophisticated or amateurish, there are two red
flags: One, the scammer says they need
the money immediately; two, they ask
for personal information, like your Social
Security number and date of birth. If you
learn these red flags and act on them,
you’ll never be scammed.
“Practice defensive computing,” you
also advise. What’s that?
If you get a phone call or see a popup on
your computer screen that says, “This is
Microsoft. We’ve detected some mal-ware. Call this number, and we can clear
it up,” when you call, it’s not Microsoft
but some boiler room in Miami.
Microsoft doesn’t send popups or make
calls like that.
What scams are going around now?
Because Medicare is issuing new ID
numbers [gradually] by region, scammers are calling seniors saying they’re
from Medicare and asking if they’ve
received their new cards and paid
the fee. People say they haven’t paid
[because no fee is required]. Then the
scammer says, “Just give me your credit
card number, and I’ll send out your new
Medicare card.” Medicare doesn’t make
calls to people once they’ve issued them
a Medicare card. They delete individuals’
One of the most common is called “the
grandparent’s scam.” Someone calls you,
says they’re the police and have arrested
your grandson, who was drunk while
driving and needs to post bail within the
next couple of hours — so give me your
credit card number. They tell you everything about him — it sounds so realistic.
That’s because they’ve picked up all the
information your grandson has posted on
You’ve also stated that the computer
password system should be replaced.
Passwords are a 1964 technology.
Passwords are for treehouses. They’re
certainly not for accessing security
and personal information. There’s
technology out today that eliminates
the need for passwords, and you don’t
have to answer any questions or give
your Social Security number or date
of birth [etc.]. In the next few years,
you’ll see everyone convert to no
passwords and get away from a very
old technology that should have been
eliminated years ago.
—Jane Wollman Rusoff
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