Frank Abagnale, Jr. knows a lot about scams.
The subject of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film, “Catch Me If You Can” featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Abagnale’s life as a con man between the ages of 16 and 21 was chronicled.
Following his capture, he was offered an opportunity to work out the remainder of his prison sentence with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He has now spent the last four decades as a consultant with the FBI and is considered one of the foremost experts on fraud.
AARP Alabama’s Fraud Watch Network presented a program in Huntsville on July 18 featuring Abagnale, who provided advice on how consumers can protect their money and their identity from fraud.
According to the AARP, the state of Alabama ranks 11th in fraud and 19th in identity theft.
And, while younger consumers are more often the target of scams, when people ages 70 or above are the target of fraud, the median loss is higher.
Abagnale broke down his top three ways for consumers to protect themselves– shred everything, freeze your credit and use a credit monitoring service.
He said shredding important documents using a security micro cut shredder will provide the greatest security, stating that ribbon shreds and cross-cut shreds can be reassembled.
Freezing your credit ensures that no one can make inquiries on your credit without your permission.
“You can always unfreeze your credit if you need to allow an institution permission to make an inquiry,” Abagnale said. “Once the inquiry is made, you can refreeze it.”
And finally, use a credit monitoring service.
Abagnale said he uses one himself and credit monitoring services provide real-time credit scores and will notify if any inquiries are made to that credit.
While credit monitoring services require the consumer to be at least 16 years old, Abagnale said those under 16 can also be targets of fraud and identity theft.
He said services like LifeLock Jr. can be used for those under 16, however, and their social security number would be monitored for signs of identity theft.
While debit cards are necessary and highly convenient for consumers, Abagnale suggest using a credit card for everyday purchases.
“A credit card is the safest form of payment on the face of the earth,” Abagnale said. “When you use a credit card, you’re spending their money, not your money, so if fraud occurs, the credit card company is liable for that loss. When you use your debit card, scammers are using your money and sometimes you will be liable if it’s stolen or it can take months to get it back.”
Abagnale refers to social media as a “bad mistake,” when it comes to trying to protect consumers from fraud and identity theft.
Most recently, millions of Facebook users have engaged in using FaceApp, which Abagnale said is dangerous.
“Users who post these photos of themselves, while it may seem harmless, they are giving biometric access to Russia,” Abagnale said. “They can take those photos and use them for all kinds of identification, including passports and driver’s licenses.”
Abagnale said everyone who uses social media should “take a minute to think about what you’re doing,” before posting information.
“Every piece of information leads to another one,” he said. “Each ‘like’ on Facebook can eventually lead to individuals and companies knowing everything about you including your gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, voting record, IQ, religion, political preference and cigarette, alcohol and drug use.”
Many have experienced getting a phone call from a local number that sometimes ends up being suspicious.
Sometimes, consumers will engage with the scammer for fun, but Abagnale said the best bet is to just hang up.
“The more time you spend on the phone with a scammer, the more calls you’re going to get,” Abagnale said. “As soon as I realize it’s a potential scam, I hang up.”
Abagnale said for a consumer, it’s sometimes hard to recognize a phone scam, but said there are some signs to look for.
He said no official institution, such as the Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service, will ever use a phone call for official business.
“Never give out personal information over the phone,” Abagnale said. “If someone is asking for personal information over the phone, such as your social security number or bank information, hang up. Then, you can call that institution and report the incident.”
While a consumer being asked for personal information over the phone is one red flag, another red flag is someone asking for money.
“With phone scams, at some point, you’re going to be asked for money and that it needs to be sent immediately, they have to have it right now,” Abagnale said.
Consumers sometimes receive calls stating they won a sweepstakes, and Abagnale said the solution to this is simple.
“Did you enter the sweepstakes,” Abagnale asked. “If you didn’t enter the sweepstakes, how did you win?”
THE FUTURE OF THEFT
Abagnale said fraud and identity theft is “200 times easier today than it was when I did it.”
The reason, he said, is technology.
Consumers have the world at their fingertips with their smartphones, tablets, TVs and more.
We can shop, bank and pay bills all from the comfort of our home.
“It takes a lot of work to stay on top of cyber crimes,” Abagnale said. “But, the thing about crime is that while the methods criminals use are ever-changing, the criminal mind stays the same. Education is the most powerful tool against crime.”
AARP Fraud Watch Network provides free services to both AARP members and non-members.
Consumers can receive biweekly “Watchdog” alerts about current fraud and scams, as well as have access to news, tips and videos on how to spot common scams and a scam-tracking map featuring reports from scam spotters and law enforcement.
Abagnale also has a weekly podcast called, “The Perfect Scam,” which is part of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. Visit aarp.org/ThePerfectScam to listen.
On Aug. 27, Abagnale’s new book, “Scam Me If You Can,” will hit the shelves and is his first book geared toward consumers.
All proceeds from the sales of “Scam Me If You Can” will be donated to the AARP, Abagnale said.
To find out more about the Fraud Watch Network program, visit aarp.org/FraudWatchNetwork.