You may not recognize the name Frank Abagnale, but Leonardo DiCaprio may be familiar to you. Leonardo played Frank in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Catch Me If You Can,” based on the autobiography of the same title. Tom Hanks was the co-star. A musical version opened on Broadway in 2011.

Beginning as a teenager, Frank impersonated a Pan Am pilot, a medical doctor and others. Along the way, he cashed $2.5 million in bad checks. All this before the age of twenty-one.

I recently heard him speak. He briefly talked about his younger days, how he was on his own at age sixteen and trying to figure out what he could to stay alive. Then came several years of living the high life, and in the movie version, one amusing escapade after another. When he found himself in jail in France, his life no longer seemed so glamorous. Frank also spent time in Swedish and U.S. prisons. He eventually decided it was time for a change. He accepted a deal that, in exchange for his release, required he  assist federal law enforcement.

Frank Abagnale has spent his time since then – thirty-five years – working with the F.B.I. He also assists financial institutions, corporations and law enforcement agencies with fraud prevention. Two things I came away with from listening to him:

  1. Credit cards are better than debit cards. Fraudulent use of a debit card immediately takes funds from your account. A credit card does not, and credit cards limit your liability.
  2. Shred everything. Even unsolicited credit card offers that arrive in the mail. And use a cross-cut shredder that makes confetti, not just ribbons.

Frank’s web site,, has a number of helpful publications you can download. (It also extols the benefits of his “PrivacyGuard” program that you can sign up for.) A 32-page downloadable booklet, “Frank Abagnale’s Tips For Protecting Your Credit” is a good one. It includes his ten tips to prevent identity theft.

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