Staying one step ahead

FBI expert Frank Abagnale says source of most fraud is simple, often overlooked

Sean P. Johnson
Posted by of Insight Publications

The greatest cases of fraud often are accomplished by the simplest actions or failures.

Frank Abagnale ought to know. The fraud schemes he perpetrated in his youth — chronicled in the book and movie “Catch Me If  You Can” — began with a simple change of one digit. By altering one number on his driver’s license, Abagnale was able to change his age from 16 to 26, allowing the teenage runaway to secure more hours and better pay at the part-time jobs he was working to support himself in New York.

His experience acting older would later help him act the part when convincing bankers, airline staff and others to honor the worthless checks he would later become so famous for writing.

While technology has created opportunities for fraud on a grander scale and at greater speed, it is often the simple, and human, element that allows the criminal to perpetrate the scheme, says Abagnale, who has now worked in the fraud and cyber crimes division of the FBI for 41 years.

“All the criminal is looking for is that one person who can do something for them, or fails to do something,” Abaganale told a group gathered at Silver Lake College. “They are just waiting for someone to open a doorway in.”

Case in point: the recently disclosed breach of Equifax in which more than 100 million Americans had identifying financial information stolen from the credit reporting agency. It was made possible because the company’s IT staff failed to run routine software updates that would have closed the known security loophole.

“It’s much easier to commit these crimes than when I did it because of the technology,” Abagnale says. “We sacrifice our security in the name of convenience.”

Additional comments from Abagnale’s presentation will be featured in the November issue of Insight on Business magazine.

Abagnale recounted his story, and the lessons that can be drawn from it, during the season-opening session of its President’s CEO Breakfast Series at Silver Lake College, sponsored by Bank First. Following his speech at the CEO Breakfast, Abagnale also presented a seminar featuring the latest information to protect institutions, associations and corporations from embezzlement, forgery, counterfeit currency, check fraud, identity theft and internet fraud.

The rest of the President’s CEO Breakfast lineup includes:

  • Nilaksh Kothari, CEO and general manager of Manitowoc Public Utilities, will speak on Wednesday, Dec. 6. He will present, “Anchor of the Communities — Balancing Utility Success and Employee Morale.”
  • Wendy Schuler, vice president–finance and treasurer with Acuity, A Mutual Insurance Company in Sheboygan, will present “Tone at the Top,” on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018.
  • Louie P. Gentine II, CEO of Sargento Foods Inc. of Plymouth, will present “Sargento: Family, Stakeholders & Innovation” on Wednesday, May 2, 2018.

For more information, visit For tickets, visit or call 920-686-6274.