Staying Safe and Secure in a Digital World
Education and Careers From global con artist to renowned security consultant, the infamous Frank Abagnale, Jr. explains how to be safe online.
Frank W. Abagnale has come a long way. Between the ages of 16 and 21, he posed as an airline pilot, an attorney, a college professor and a pediatrician while cashing $2.5 million in fraudulent checks in every state and 26 countries.
After serving time in France, Sweden, and the United States, Abagnale was offered a position working with the FBI to investigate document fraud.
Today, Abagnale is one of the world’s foremost authorities on forgery, embezzlement, and secure documents continuing to collaborate with the FBI for the past 37 years.
“Technologies are incredible, but we must be taught how to use them properly.”
“Me stealing your identity is like asking me to count to three,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
He uses the example of Facebook. Most people display their birth date and hometown, which is key information for someone looking to steal your identity.
“Technologies are incredible,” he said. “But we must be taught how to use them properly.”
Abagnale recommends never putting your place of birth or date of birth on your Facebook profile and to opt for a group photo and never a face frontal picture as your profile photo, to avoid facial recognition software.
He also stresses some timely advice: Be careful of what you write on your Facebook or other social media accounts. Once it’s online, it’s there forever.
“Is an employer going to hire you if there’s a picture of you drunk on the beach with drug paraphernalia?” he asked. “You have to be naïve to think privacy settings will help you.”
Abagnale offers three tips anyone can do to protect their privacy and identity.
Reducing your risk
First off, he suggests purchasing a proper shredder. There are three different types of shredders, he says, but the ones most people use are ‘worthless.’ Documents shredded using a strip-cut shredder or cross-cut shredder can be put back together in an FBI lab in a matter of hours. Abagnale stressed the importance of buying a “security micro cut shredder,” which turns paper into confetti.
Secondly, Abagnale explains, when picking a credit monitoring service it is important to vet them and ask two basic questions. First, ask if they monitor all three credit bureaus. Second, if they notify you in real time.
“When someone’s at Macy’s buying something in my name, I want my cell phone to go off right then so I can be proactive.”
“When someone’s at Macy’s buying something in my name, I want my cell phone to go off right then so I can be proactive,” he said.
Finally, Abagnale does not use a debit card, which he calls “the worst financial tool that’s been developed.” The safest form of payment is a credit card. Every day he spends the credit card company’s money while his money is in a money market account collecting interest.
“If someone gets my number and charges $1 million on my credit card, by federal law I have no liability,” he said. “When I pay my bill every month, my credit score goes up. Every time you use a debit card, you expose your money and you get nothing in return.”
Abagnale has come a long way since his check fraud days. As the subject of a book, movie (Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio), and play, Abagnale is in the perfect position to use his experience for the common good.
“Technology has made what I did, a thousand times easier”, Abagnale warns, a constant reminder to guard your digital information closely.
Frank Abagnale Interview: