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Ohio State catches Frank Abagnale for lecture on life, time in FBI

Former con artist turned FBI agent Frank Abagnale gave a lecture to OSU students in an event sponsored by OUAB and the Security and Intelligence Club Feb. 24. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Former con artist turned FBI agent Frank Abagnale gave a lecture to OSU students in an event sponsored by OUAB and the Security and Intelligence Club Feb. 24.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

One man was able to become an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer all before the age of 21.

The Ohio Union Activities Board collaborated with the Security and Intelligence Club to welcome Frank Abagnale, a former con artist turned FBI consultant, Monday evening in the Ohio Union Performance Hall. Students had the opportunity to hear about Abagnale’s life and criminal career.

Abagnale said his life in fraudulence began when he had an idea to pose as an airline employee.

“I could pose as a pilot. I could travel all over the world for free. I probably could get anybody, anywhere to cash a check for me,” Abagnale said.

In order to pose as a pilot, Abagnale needed an official identification card marked with the airline’s symbol.

Abagnale found a company that made identification cards for carrier airlines, and he pretended to be a purchasing officer for a major U.S. carrier airline. After talking to a sales representative who was there at the company, the representative was able to make him a mock sample card on the system with Abagnale’s picture on it.

However, the plastic card did not have the symbol of the airline’s logo on it. Abagnale used decal sheets off a model airplane to plant the tiny logo from the sheet to his fake card.

Instead of going on Pan Am aircrafts, he would instead ride on the jump seat, the seat behind the captain of the plane, of other aircrafts to get to other destinations around the world. While he was a pilot, he would also cash in personal fraudulent checks of $100 as a personal employee of the airline.

Later, Abagnale told the audience he decided to move to a “swank” apartment in Atlanta. While he was there, he pretended to be a doctor. As many of the residents around his apartment found out that he was a doctor, they would ask him to check their physical illnesses or symptoms, or as Abagnale put it, “‘Hey doc, look at my leg.’”

He said he usually told those people to ask their own doctors about it.

But Abagnale did do a thorough examination of the female residents who would ask him to check on them.

“When the girls came by, I always gave them a thorough examination. I was young but not stupid,” Abagnale said.

He decided to pose as an attorney later in the Louisiana Attorney General’s office. Abagnale studied for the bar for two months before taking and passing it.

Eventually, Abagnale’s chase came to an end when hew as 21.

After serving four out of 12 years of his federal prison sentence in the U.S., he was offered a chance to get out of prison on the condition he would work out his remaining sentence for a federal agency or until his parole had been satisfactorily completed, Abagnale said.

“I agreed and was released. This year, I am celebrating 38 years at the FBI where I work today,” Abagnale said.

While he got away with his cons for a while, Abagnale might discredit those who call him a genius.

“I wasn’t brilliant. I was just creative. I saw things that other people didn’t see,” Abagnale said.

He also said he was happy director Steven Spielberg was able to tell his story through the film, “Catch Me If You Can.”

“He was very much about staying accurate as he could in the film. I was very blessed that it was he who told my story on screen,” Abagnale said.

Abagnale also said he had the opportunity to meet Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, who played Carl Hanratty and Frank Abagnale respectively, the two stars of the film. The two actors were able to visit him at one of his briefings for the FBI, Abagnale said.

The FBI, however, had very strict regulations on people interviewing and talking to him, Abagnale said. Because of this, Spielberg told everyone they had to make the film without ever meeting the real star of the movie, just like Spielberg had to make the film without meeting the FBI consultant himself. But Hanks and DiCaprio visited the former con artist anyway.

Abagnale mentioned he would have gotten caught eventually.

“Once people start chasing you, they never give up until they catch you. I never lost sight that I would get caught,” Abagnale said.

Some students said they enjoyed the event.

“I was surprised that he was so funny in general. I thought he was really going to be really serious. He was very straight-forward and he took responsibility for everything that he did,” said Sara Clark, a first-year in psychology.

Many students liked hearing Abagnale’s thoughts on the movie, too.

“I just liked seeing his thoughts on what the movie portrayed and how his actions affected his life. I thought he was really interesting,” said Jenna Galletta, a third-year in chemical engineering.

Many students admired him for his life story.

“Even though it was a crime, I admired that he lived his life and that he has a story to tell because of that,” said Brandon Liebau, a second-year in biomedical science.

Whether Abagnale is praised or shamed, the former con artist admits he takes full responsibility of his actions.

“Anything I did, I take full responsibility for it. Nobody pushed me into it. Nobody made me do it. Those were decisions that I had made,” Abagnale said.


  1. Bummed I missed this–would have loved to hear what he thought of the movie and also more of his stories. Had to go to class

  2. Unless you are on a deserted island in recent months have not all escaped his
    reporting on Twitter. Make yourself a short video about your
    business or product you want to promote and upload it to your
    account. Her Facebook cover was a poignant family photo of the
    movie star and the girl seated side by side staring at each other.

  3. Did anyone video tape this talk? I will pay anything to get a copy.

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