Frank Abagnale, the renowned cybersecurity and fraud prevention expert, bestselling author, and subject of the film Catch Me if You Can, shared his dramatic life story with NACE attendees during his keynote session on Wednesday, March 29.
Abagnale opened his talk by saying he was not involved in the making of the movie; although it was a close depiction of his life, he proceeded to share the true story. At the age of 16, Abagnale abruptly learned that his parents were divorcing and was faced with deciding who to live with. Traumatized by the situation, he ran away and spent the next several years surviving on low-level jobs and writing fraudulent checks. From there he moved on to impersonating a commercial airline pilot, enabling him to travel and obtain free accommodations around the world. Still later he impersonated a doctor using forged credentials.
His illegal activities eventually caught up with him. Apprehended by the French police when he was 21 years old, Abagnale served time in the French, Swedish, and U.S. prison systems. After five years he was released on the condition that he assist the U.S. federal government, without remuneration, by teaching and helping law enforcement agencies. He has now been with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for 41 years.
“I owe my country hundreds of times more than I can ever repay,” he said of his service, “When I wake up, I am amazed not about what I did but how I was able to start completely over.”
Early in his career with the FBI, he met and married his wife, who he credits with truly turning his life around. They have three sons, one of whom works for the FBI. “Nothing is more important than happiness, peace of mind, and being a good spouse and parent,” he concluded. The audience was moved to a standing ovation.
Following his talk, Abagnale answered a series of questions posed by NACE CEO Bob Chalker and Past Treasurer Terry May. Abagnale related his experiences with NACE International’s need to protect the credibility of its certifications and other programs. He provided advice on how to manage social media, including how to avoid identity theft. “Technology breeds crime,” he said, providing real world examples of the many breaches throughout our society.
“We are living in a society with few ethics, and we rarely teach them,” he said, “We must bring ethics back into the home, schools, universities, and workplace.”
Finally, he cited a situation in which an employee, wrongly believing he had been contacted through email by his CEO, released private company employee tax records. “People cause breaches,” he said, “It is most important to teach employees how to protect their organizations.”