Exclusive Interview: Frank Abagnale Jr. On Personal Finances And Keeping Yourself Safe From Fraud
Protect your investments Former con man Frank Abagnale Jr. discusses fraud, cyber-crime, identity theft, and the future in an age where too much information is relatively unprotected from fraudsters.
Mediaplanet: Could you describe your career working with the FBI?
Frank Abagnale Jr.: Next year I will celebrate four decades of working with the FBI. This has been a tremendous honor and privilege for me. I provide training to new agents at the FBI Academy and those in the field offices around the country on issues of fraud, cyber crimes, data breaches, identity theft, forgery, and other topics. I have also been asked to consult on certain cases.
MP: What is at risk for people who become victims
FA: The biggest risk today is identity theft. We live in a too-much-information age and with so much personal information available, people can easily become victims of fraud. Realistically, probably everyone has already had their identity stolen.
MP: What is your best advice for those looking to protect themselves?
FA: Limit the personal information you make available. There is no need to tell everyone on Facebook where you were born, your date of birth, where you work, what your travel plans are, your pet’s name, etc. Do not use passport style photographs of your portrait which can be picked up by facial recognition software. Make sure that you use a micro-cut shredder to destroy any documents that contain personal information that you no longer need. Documents destroyed by criss-cross shedders and straight ribbon shredders are easily reconstructed.
“We live in a too-much-information age and with so much personal information available, people can easily become victims of fraud.”
MP: How does insurance play a role in protecting personal finances?
FA: I have two opinions on this question. When individuals purchase identity theft insurance from credit monitoring services or their insurance provider, they should understand that this insurance only covers their out-of- pocket expenses to correct their credit, such as time off work, shipping cost of documents, etc. It does not cover the cost of any actual losses that occurred from the identity theft. Second, I strongly believe that all companies, big and small, should carry errors and omission insurance (forgery, embezzlement, crimes against the company, etc.).
MP: What dangers do users of social media face, and how can they be avoided?
FA: As mentioned above, social media is a great place for criminals to obtain information about future victims. The internet has made many things easier for criminals, not only from finding out information, but also hackers can trick people and obtain access to their personal online information, bank accounts, private documents, etc.
MP: What career opportunities are available in this field?
FA: Actually, there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for fraud investigators, forensic accountants and analysts.
MP: How can one get involved in fraud prevention as a professional fraud examiner?
FA: The best way to start a career in the fraud investigation field is to look into the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. This organization is based in Austin, Texas and was founded many years ago by a former FBI agent. There are local chapters for the organization all over the world, where one can attend meetings and get detailed information about their certification programs. Today, carrying the certification of CFE goes a long way in finding employment as a fraud investigator.
MP: Do you think you would be able to pull off the same ploys with today’s technology and prevention measures?
FA: What I did 40 years ago is thousands of times easier to do today, due to technology. There will always be individuals who use technology in negative self-serving ways. For example, to create a check or realistic identification 40 years ago, a forger would have had to have been a skilled printer with access to a four-color printing press, color separations, negatives and typesetting equipment—a million dollar investment. Today, a $5,000 investment in a laptop, a printer and a scanner will accomplish the same goal, and it’s portable. Because we live in a too-much-information world, a phone call can get you a copy of an annual report with the signatures of the officers of the company and a phone call to the accounts receivable department can get you wiring instructions to the bank account.
MP: You have had such an interesting and memorable life, what is one of the most unforgettable experiences?
FA: I’m 67 years old and if I live to be 100 I will never experience a more proud moment or tremendously special occasion in my life than watching my son become an FBI agent. This is something he wanted to do since he was 14 years old.
MP: Who were your biggest influencers during your career?
FA: I know that people would like to hear that I was born again, I “saw the light” or prison rehabilitated me, but the truth is I’ve been married to my one and only wife for 38 years. She gave me three wonderful sons, a family, and she changed my life. She and she alone.
MP: An important part of fraud prevention is protecting your wealth and family’s estate while planning for the future. When it comes to estate planning – do you have any advice on how people can ensure that their assets are safe and secure?
FA: A person’s general health allows the option of protection of assets through probate with purchase of life insurance. It protects the estate against both federal and state taxes (estate or death taxes) at usually less than three cents per dollar annually. A solid life insurance plan should cover final expenses and preserve an estate generationally for its heirs.
MP: To avoid becoming a victim of fraud, many people utilize the expertise of financial planners to manage their money. What are some of the benefits of using a third party to accumulate wealth and protect your finances?
FA: Financial planning would best be enhanced by investment diversity-annuities, real estate, stocks, bonds and even precious metals. In my opinion you don’t need home runs, just plenty of singles but plan on a few strikeouts as well. Of course, it is important that you have complete trust in your financial advisor and know that those who you invest your money with are trusted and well established entities.