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Take on Today Podcast Episode 4

Frank Abagnale joins Bob Edwards for a discussion on how scammers operate, tips for listeners to protect themselves

Take on Today Podcast


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Frank Abagnale, one of the world's most respected fraud experts and an AARP Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, joins Bob Edwards for a discussion on how scammers operate, tips for listeners to protect themselves and Frank’s work on The Perfect Scam podcast.

Bob Edwards:

Hello. I’m Bob Edwards with an AARP Take on Today.

Joining me today is Frank Abagnale, one of the world's most respected authorities on forgery, embezzlement and secure documents and an AARP Fraud Watch Network Ambassador.

For over 40 years he has worked with, advised and consulted with hundreds of financial institutions, corporations and government agencies around the world.

Beginning of Interview

Bob Edwards:

You've had your story told by Hollywood, on Broadway and Television. What do you want people to know about your life's work and has anything been left out, anything that's missing that you want people to know?

Frank Abagnale:

Yeah, I think a lot. I think that most people only know me as the person in the movie and I know and understand why people are fascinated with what I did between the ages of 16 and 21. But as a 70 year old man today, I look back on my life and realized that the most amazing thing that's happened in my life is not the things that I did, but the fact that I did them. I served my time in prison. I've been able to take my life and turn it around—serve my country for 42 years, be married to my one and only wife for 40-plus years, bring three wonderful boys into the world, five grandchildren.

And the ability to accomplish a lot of things in my life: with developing things that went into paper and plastic to keep them from being counterfeited, up to technology that we use today, to a project I'm working on now to do away with passwords. And to help educate law enforcement people, as well as consumers and business people from not falling victim to so many of the scams and cons and that are perpetrated every day in our country.

Bob Edwards:

Indeed, you worked with the FBI and with corporations and other entities what is it you do for these institutions?

Frank Abagnale:

I'm a big believer that education is the most powerful tool to fighting crime. In the case of working with AARP, I get great satisfaction out of that, because unfortunately senior folks are very honest individuals. And because they're honest they don't have a deceptive mind, so when they get a phone call, email, letter, they believe it's the truth. Because they are coming from another generation when things were told to us that were true and we could believe they were true. So, I find that if I can explain these scams to them and tell them these are how they work, this is what they'll say, this is what they'll do. Then when they get that phone call or email they'll go I've already heard about this. I know this is a scam.

And it is the same way in educating law enforcement officers. I've taught at the FBI Academy for 40 years and basically teaching agents to think a little bit out of the box. And there is no technology that can stop social engineering. It's only through education. You have to educate people to know that they are being socially engineered. That they are trying to get information from them, whether it be on the phone or internet. I find education as the most powerful tool and that's what I use to get these crimes people to know about them and help prevent them.

Bob Edwards:

Can you keep the Russians out of our elections?

Frank Abagnale:

I think we could learn to do a better job of keeping the Russians out of our elections. I think social media is something that years from now, after I’m long gone, we'll realize that it was a bad experiment, something we should have never done, a stupid idea and that it’s the root of a lot of the problems we have today.

Bob Edwards:

A young man said to you that when you did your shenanigans it was a long time ago and now there’s all this new technology. Would it be more difficult to do what you did?

Frank Abagnale:

Four thousand times easier to do today, because I didn't have all this technology. For me to print a check, I had to take eight months to learn how to operate a Heidelberg printing press and be a printer and learn how to do color separations, negatives, plates and typesetting. Today, you just open a laptop and scan a corporate logo and put it on a check design and in 15 minutes you have a beautiful check. And you go down to the office supply store and buy check paper or watermark in it and you print it out on your inkjet printer. And we live in a way too much information world that you can find out just about anything you need to find out in a matter of minutes that didn't exist back then, so crime has certainly become a lot easier than when I did it.

Bob Edwards:

A couple of months ago I got a new Medicare card and I compared it to the older one and I noticed the social security number was omitted. Did you have anything to do with that?

Frank Abagnale:

Yes, I hope a lot. I testified before Congress several times and over the years I have asked Congress to remove the social security number from our armed forces, which they did. And I've been after them for years to remove it from the Medicare card, which they finally have done. What's interesting now we even have scams with that. Because I'm on Medicare and I just got my new card recently. But people are getting phone calls now saying have you received your new Medicare card. And of course they say no, not yet. Well that's because you haven't paid your fee. There's a $15 fee and I can take a credit card over the phone and you'll get your card within ten days. There is no fee it's just that there are so many cards it takes a long time to manufacture the cards get them mailed and distributed. But people are getting scammed on just a new card scam but it's great that they've removed the social security or mercy identifiers off the card.

Bob Edwards:

Are we at the mercy of hackers? Is there no program that's safe?

Frank Abagnale:

This is the truth. If you look at every breach, and I have, that's occurred for in the last 13-15 years. Every breach occurs, because somebody in that company did something they weren't supposed to do or somebody in that company failed to do something they were supposed to do. Hackers really don't cause breaches, people do.

In the case of Equifax they failed to update their technology. They didn't take the patches sent to them by Microsoft, that they should have fixed. Consequently, that opened the door for hackers and that's always the case. A lot of times it's our own fault. And sometimes companies don't do a lot to protect their data. They think it will never happen to me or I don't want to spend the money to do it and it just opens the doors for people to get in.

We do a very poor job especially on the government side, even more than the private side, where a bank can't afford to lose two hundred billion dollars. The government has tremendous fraud perpetrated against Medicare and our government agencies, because they don't do enough to keep that information safe.

Bob Edwards:

Always seems that the con men are ahead of the technology.

Frank Abagnale:

Always. And they always find ways around it.

Now they've gotten to learn about the IRS scam. It's been publicized a lot. AARP has done a lot to get that message out, so a lot of people know that's the phone calls from the IRS are a scam. So now they started mailing letters here in the last few months supposedly from the IRS—on the IRS letterhead, coming in an envelope from the IRS with postage and fees paid by US government, that they printed up. And telling you now the same scam, but by mail. So they've just switched gears a little bit. When things change they switch gears to change with them and go on with their scam.

Bob Edwards:

But you're hopeful the technology will be developed hacker-proof?

Frank Abagnale:

Yeah one thing that I'm working on right now, for the last five years, is a technology called Trusona, which stands for true persona. I'm a big advocator that we have to do away with passwords. Passwords are for treehouses. This is 1964 technology that we're using in 2018, which is just absurd. We have to move toward removing passwords. And those types of technologies, like Trusona, do that effectively without having to have people remember passwords and use passwords.

I think you can constantly improve on technology. You can use technology to fight crime, but you always have to stay one step ahead of it. We do the opposite of that. We put a device in our home that says you can talk to it and it will tell you what the weather is or if you want to order something on Amazon. That device is voice-activated. By simple manipulation, I can hear everything you say in your house. I don't need my refrigerator to talk to my toaster. They've been getting along for years without having a conversation. But all the things in our homes, our television sets, our remote controls, our cameras that we have around our property are all access point for hackers.

And that’s because the people who develop those technologies never go the final step to say, how would someone use this in the wrong way, so we can close that gap. They're just more anxious to get it out in the marketplace and get it selling without ever finishing that and that's why so many of these do technologies are so easy to defeat and circumvent.

Bob Edwards:

What can I do personally, to protect myself?

Frank Abagnale:

There are lots of things. For example, I tell people when identity theft is a concern of yours.

I tell people to do what I do myself. I do use a shredder. I shred everything, because what you think is worthless could be of great value to someone else.

You might have got a catalog yesterday and threw it away. But on the catalog was your name and address, barcode, source code, ID number, which is more than enough information for me to become you. You wrote a check at the grocery store and gave the clerk the check. On the check was your name, address, phone number, bank's name and address, account number at that bank, routing number into that account that you're wiring instructions, signature on the check (which is the signature on your bank card), and then the clerk has written your driver's license number on the front and your date of birth.

You don't get the check back. We live in truncation. So, anyone who sees that check can order checks off your account, they can wire money out of your account, etc.

I do use a credit monitoring service. I've used one since ‘92. I believe you take responsibility for checking yourself. I monitor my own credit even though they do it for $15 a month. I'm still looking at my credit as often as I like. I can see of any notations on my credit, inquiries on my credit. If something's not right I can fix it, so I do do that. If I have the ability to freeze my credit, which you will have after September 1st.

Again this is something I lobbied Congress for, because there are only eight states that allowed you to freeze your credit without paying a fee. Ten dollars to freeze it. Fifteen dollars to unfreeze it. Ten dollars to freeze it again. I thought there should be consistency from all 50 states, so on September 1st , Congress has passed the bill. It's been signed by the president.

On September 1st, all 50 states will allow you to freeze your credit. After all it's your credit, you didn't tell Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion that they could have your information. You didn't tell them they could sell your information and make billions of dollars doing so. So you should at least have the right to cut it off and shut it down if you want to shut off your credit and exposure it to your credit.

Finally, as I always remind people I don't use a debit card. I've never owned one. I only use a credit card, because by the way the laws are written the credit card company has total liability. So if someone gets my card number and charges a million dollars to it, it's not my liability. But if they get my debit card and steal a million dollars out of my account, I have to try and fight to get that money back into my bank account. I try to minimize my risk by using my card. At the same time when I pay the bill or the minimum due my credit score goes up, so I keep building credit in my name. When you use your debit card you do nothing for your credit.

Bob Edwards:

You're not big on Twitter, are you?

Frank Abagnale:

No, I'm not on any social media, whatsoever.

Bob Edwards:

You are a co-host of AARP’s The Perfect Scam podcast, tell me about your show and what listeners can hear in upcoming episodes.

Frank Abagnale:

I was approached by AARP about four years ago. Most of my career I dealt with crimes against businesses, financial institutions, corporations and governments. Every book I’ve written has been related to business-related crimes. When AARP approached me, I was coming towards the end of my career and I thought to myself here's an opportunity to actually go out and talk to consumers and protect them. There are no resources out there for them to go to. To learn how to protect themselves. So, this is a great opportunity.

I've had a wonderful experience over the last four years working with AARP. We've gone to 38 states, spoken to thousands of people, we've done videos, radio shows. And now we have the podcast, The Perfect Scam. Where people are able to call in and you hear them explain what happened to them, how they were ripped off, how money was stolen from. 

Some of them are very sad stories where people lost their life savings, lost their home. And then you're able to at least explain to them—this is why this happened, this is what you should have done so it wouldn't happen. And the people listening understand and learn from it. So if that happens their way, they're going to say I already know about the scam, I've heard about this scam, I know people who've been victimized by the scam and they can do something to protect themselves.

Bob Edwards:

To hear more from Frank Abagnale, listen to “The Perfect Scam” podcast available at AARP dot org slash podcast. 

Or listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and other podcast apps.

Bob Edwards:

Here’s what else you need to know this week.

The centuries-old practice of working at the same job or profession right up to retirement is becoming obsolete.

In its place: a career path marked by new jobs, new starts, even new businesses, continuing for as long as you have a passion, or a need for work.

The proof is in the data.

One study shows that forty percent of people working at age sixty-two had changed careers since they turned fifty-five.

Looking for a new career? Find companies that have pledged to recognize the value of older workers at AARP dot org slash employer pledge.

Bob Edwards:

Remember how happy you were to hear reports on how red wine, dark chocolate and caffeine might help your brain stay sharp?

Not so fast, says a sobering new study from the Global Council on Brain Health, which found no evidence that consuming them specifically made a positive impact.

But before you back off your daily dose of dark mocha latte and pinot noir, remember that consumption in moderation may be the smartest choice you can make to nourish your brain’s health.

Bob Edwards:

To learn more, visit staying sharp dot AARP dot org.

Bob Edwards:

For more, visit AARP dot org slash podcast.

Become a subscriber, and be sure to rate our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and other podcast apps.

Thanks for listening.  I’m Bob Edwards.    

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