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Imposter Changed His Character

by Ron Kurtus (2 April 2013)

It is possible for a swindler and a thief to realize the error of his ways and change his attitude to become a good person. An example of this is seen in Frank Abagnale, Jr.

Starting when he was 16-years old, Abagnale went on a crime spree of check forging, tricking people and impersonating professionals for five years in the 1960s. He passed bad checks worth more than $2.5 million in 26 countries, using at least eight aliases. Although he seemed to have ambition and skill, he also demonstrated very poor social and cultural character.

After serving prison time for his crimes, he relaized what he had done was wrong and decided to improve his character. He then started a business helping companies to combat fraud. Abagnale's life is a good case study of how a person with negative character can transform to having positive character.

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This lesson will answer those questions.



Flawed character

Frank Abagnale had flawed character traits that led him to a life of crime and ultimately landed him in prison.

Stole from father

Frank first showed signs of negative character after he purchased a car at age 16. He persuaded his father to lend him his Mobil card to buy a few parts of his car. He proceeded to large quantities of car parts and sell them back gas station attendant at a price less than they were purchased. He split the cash profits with the attendant, and spent the money on girls. His father had to pay Mobil $3400 for the purchases.

Not only did he break the law by fraud, but he was also stealing from his father. This was a bad sign that he had negative character traits.

He was not punished by his father, but his mother then placed him in a special school for juvenile offenders. Shortly afterwards, his parents divorced, and Frank ran away from home. It was the last time he ever saw his father. He didn't see his mother for another seven years.

Started career of fraud

In an effort to survive on his own in New York City, Frank would use his charm to trick people into giving him money. He started forging checks and soon graduated to printing up near-perfect copies of checks that he would use to get money.

Later, he would forge credentials to get high paying jobs, such as a university teacher, airline pilot, physician and attorney. He was highly intelligent and studied hard to be able to fake his way into these positions.

Soon, he was traveling all over the world, cashing forged checks, scamming people and living the high life. He cashed over $2.6 million in forged checks to support his playboy lifestyle. He would often change his identity to avoid capture.

Arrested

Authorities in 26 countries where he committed fraud were looking for Frank. Finally, in 1969, he was caught in France when an airline attendant recognized him from a wanted poster. He was sent to the notorious Perpignan's House of Arrest—known for its severe conditions—for 6 months.

Then he was extradited to Sweden for another 6 months. All 26 countries wanted to punish Abagnale, but he was then deported to the United States and sentenced to 12 years in a federal prison.

Motivations

Abagnale claims he was driven by a desire to impress and romance women. Even his first known fraud was simply to pay for dates. Impersonating an airline pilot or physician was done to impress the ladies, as well as to seem important to other people. Cashing millions of dollars of bad checks allowed Frank to live the high life.

But he also was ambitious and hardworking—certainly positive personal character traits—but often at the expense of others. It is one thing to rationalize stealing from banks because the loss supposedly wouldn't hurt them, but the dishonest social character traits also hurt and deceived a large number of people who trusted and helped him.

Abagnale admits that he had a very strong ego when he was young. Positive personal character traits with negative social and cultural traits are a bad combination. It results in a successful crook.

Change in character

In 1974, after serving less than five years in prison, he was released from prison on the condition that he would help federal authorities detect fraud and scam artists. He was required to do this without being paid for his work.

Trying to have positive character

At this point in his life, he realized that crime is not worthwhile and made an effort to have positive cultural character, so that he would fit in an acceptable role in society.

Abagnale tried several low-level jobs to support himself, but he was fired from most when they found about criminal career background.

Great idea of a business

He then got a great idea of using his skills in crime to help fight others that were trying to defraud banks. To a degree, he was making amends and paying back society. He offered to teach the staff of banks the various tricks used to defraud banks. If they were not satisfied with his talk, they owned him nothing. This was the beginning of his business as a security consultant.

Paid back money he stole

He later founded Abagnale & Associates, which advises businesses on fraud. He was able to raise enough money to pay back all those he had defrauded during his criminal career. Abagnale is now a millionaire through company and speaking engagements. He is married and has three sons.

Book and Movie

In 1979, Abagnale co-wrote his autobiography, Catch Me if You Can, documenting his exploits. He sold the film rights in 1980, and the movie version was made in 2002, starting Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

Summary

Frank Abagnale's life provides a good case study of how a person with negative character can transform to having positive character. He on a crime spree of check forging, tricking people and impersonating professionals for five years in the 1960s, passing bad checks worth more than $2.5 million in 26 countries, using at least eight aliases.

After serving prison time for his crimes, he had a change of heart and improvement of character. He then started a business helping companies combat fraud and paid back victims of his crimes.


Being a good person pays


Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

Frank Abagnale biography - From Biography.com

Frank Abagnale - From Wikipedia

Frank Abagnale & Associates - Security firm

Character Resources

Books

Top-rated books on Frank Abagnale

Top-rated books on Character


Questions and comments

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