If you make it easy for people to steal from you, chances are they will. That's part of the education message delivered in Tulsa Wednesday by a famous criminal-turned-crime fighter, made famous by the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can.
As part of AARP Oklahoma's Fraud Watch consumer education program, Frank Abagnale spoke to an audience at Gilcrease Museum about his life and offered tips to outsmart today's schemers.
In his early 20s, Abagnale had pulled off numerous credit card and check schemes while impersonating various white collar professionals. After paying for his crime, he joined the FBI to fight against some of the crimes he committed.
He says arming consumers with knowledge is a natural extension of the second career he forged outsmarting the scammers.
"I spent 40 years of my career dealing with crimes against governments and corporations...so I'm dealing with telling corporations how not to be victimized. So when AARP approached me a couple of years ago about doing this, I thought this was a great way to take my career to an end to also do some work with consumers and it's the same thing - educating them."
Abagnale encourages consumers to embrace skepticism and verify phone calls from institutions such as their bank or the police and to tell loved ones or authorities if they feel they've been ripped off.
He says today's scams are basically the same as they were 20 years ago, but he says technology has changed one thing.
"The only thing that's gone away in reality is the famous con man, the con man who was the well dressed, well spoken, had a great vocabulary, you instantly liked him. Those days are gone because you never see who victimized you. They're sitting in a kitchen in Russia and talking to you and you think they're down the street. So you're never going to see them, so what they look like or how they sound is irrelevant. So that has changed about the old days of the suave con man are gone because technology has replaced that with the computer. We look at the computer and do what the computer says."
Wednesday marked a homecoming of sorts for Abagnale, who spent 25 years living in Tulsa, where he and his wife raised three sons. He says it was a perfect location to leave his past behind him.
"I raised my children in Tulsa I lived here for 25 years because I wanted to keep my children away from THAT. And during that time, I never spoke in Tulsa, I never did any media in Tulsa, and though I traveled the world and did the kind of work I do today, it was never done here for the sole purpose of my kids growing up without that background. Of course my children were old enough to know who I was...but I didn't feel they needed to deal with it on a daily basis. And Tulsa was great. They left you alone and it was a wonderful, wonderful place to raise my three boys here."
Abagnale says that it's never too late to turn a new page in your life.
"I tell people all the time it doesn't matter what you've done in your life, It's what you do with your life, so everybody makes mistakes in life. So whether you're alcoholic, whether you have drug problems, whatever it is, if you want to change your life...this country allows you to do that...if you want to."