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Fraud Expert: Become Smarter, Wiser to Avoid Scams

Frank Abagnale has advised the FBI on how to outsmart con artists for more than 40 years. (John Kaul Afton Films)
Frank Abagnale has advised the FBI on how to outsmart con artists for more than 40 years. (John Kaul Afton Films)
November 11, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The holiday season provides ample opportunities for con artists to prowl for unsuspecting victims, and a world-renowned expert on identity theft has crucial advice to help Minnesotans avoid becoming prey.

Frank Abagnale is a reformed con artist who was depicted by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 movie "Catch Me if You Can." His number-one tip to avoid a scam is to get educated.

"I tell people every day, you can't rely on the bank, you can't rely on the police, you can't rely on the government. This is not 25 years ago,” Abagnale said. “You have to be a little smarter today. You have to be a little wiser and learn to protect yourself.'"

Abagnale has advised the FBI and businesses on how to outsmart con artists for more than four decades, and now shares his unique expertise as an AARP Fraud Watch Network Ambassador. At an event in Rochester last week, he highlighted the two biggest red flags to identify a scam: if the person asks for money and demands it immediately; or if someone requests personal information such as a Social Security number or bank account number.

Consumers can take preventive steps to avoid becoming a fraud victim. Abagnale suggests putting a freeze on your credit, and using a credit card for purchases instead of a debit card.

"So if someone were to get my card, charge a million dollars on it, by federal law I am not liable for one dime,” he explained. “When you use a debit card, every time you reach for it you're exposing the money in your account. So when they steal the money, they're stealing your money."

Abagnale said every day he hears stories of people who become victimized, and lose tens of thousands of dollars - sometimes even their pensions or their homes. And, he added, fraudsters have no qualms about what they do.

"Years ago, the scam artists had to meet you personally; they had to build a relationship,” he said. “The scam artists today are sitting in their pajamas with a cup of coffee in their kitchen with their laptop thousands of miles away. They're never going to see you, you're never going to see them. They have no compassion and they will steal every dime you have."

Some of the biggest scams right now involve imposters who impersonate the Social Security Administration and threaten to stop benefit payments unless personal information is provided, or someone claims to be from the IRS and threatens legal action unless there is immediate payment. Learn more and get fraud alerts and tips online at

Disclosure: AARP Minnesota contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Health Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MN