Frank Abagnale Answers Top Scam Questions
Our fraud expert shares his insight on gift card scams, WhatsApp and more
In this bonus episode, fraud expert Frank Abagnale joins us to use Google’s autocomplete function to ask some of the internet’s most burning questions, such as How do you spot a scam on Facebook marketplace? What are scammers doing with gift cards? And… Did Frank really escape from a plane?
[00:00:01] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. This week we’re doing our bonus episode which is a little bit lighter and a lot more fun than our regular episodes. Past bonus episodes included “You’ve Got Mail with Frank Abagnale” and “True & False with Frank Abagnale.” Today we’re going to be doing something a little bit different, and I’m going not ask you to use your imagination, just a little bit. When you search for something online and you go to a site like Google, you start typing something into a search box like sushi restaurants or headaches or best Star Trek episodes or podcasts? Your computer will often make suggestions like this: podcasts for women, podcasts for teens, or, if you’re like me, podcast equipment, or podcast microphones. It’s called autocomplete, and the computer is trying to complete your thoughts for you. Autocomplete is now part of our digital lives, and so it’s also going to be part of The Perfect Scam podcast. Today Frank is back, and we’re going to play “Autocomplete with Frank Abagnale.” Also with me here today are The Perfect Scam’s Julie Getz and Brook Ellis. You don’t hear their voices all the time, but they work tirelessly to bring you these podcasts, so we’re going to let them in on the fun too. Remember, picture typing into a little search box, and know Frank doesn’t know the questions ahead of time, so let’s see what he comes up with. So Julie, why don’t you kick us off?
[00:01:27] Julie Getz: All right. Hi Bob, hi Frank.
[00:01:30] Frank Abagnale: Hi, Julie
[00:01:30] Julie Getz: All right, Frank. The first one is, okay, again, using our imagination, I’m typing in, “Do scammers…” and the first one is “…use What’s App?”
[00:01:44] Frank Abagnale: Absolutely, since What’s App is basically a communications app, and scammers may use What’s App to convince you that they are romantically interested in you, that they may ask you for money, they may contact you through the What’s App with a job offer. And once scammers have your personal information, your money, they will block your number and disappear. So absolutely, it’s one of many apps used by scammers.
[00:02:09] Julie Getz: Got it. Okay. All right, Brook, I think you’re next, right?
[00:02:12] Brook Ellis: Yes. “Can scammers use your address?”
[00:02:18] Frank Abagnale: Of course. As I remind people all the time, with today’s technology and living in a way too much information world, if you tell me on social media your, where you were born and your date of birth, that’s 98% of me filling in all the rest of the blanks about your personal information. If I have your address, then I can look up your address, I can look at what kind of house you live in, the neighborhood you live in. From your address, I find out that land records, who owns the property, that leads me to the bank who holds the mortgage. I mean all of these things are connected, so one piece of little information by a person who knows what they’re doing can lead them to a tremendous amount of information about you because, unfortunately, we now live in a too much information world.
[00:03:03] Brook Ellis: Yeah, a little scary. Um, the next one is, “Can scammers get info from texting?”
[00:03:10] Frank Abagnale: Uh, yeah, just as they would get information from calling you on the phone, there’s now, you know, we dealt with robocalls forever, and now we’re dealing with the, the same thing with text-robocalls, so I can send you a message and say I’m your bank and ask you to verify your phone number. I can send you a message saying I’m from an agency and asking you information, so it’s just another form of communication whether I call and ask you over the phone or I send you a text. So you just need to be just as careful as you would with a robocall from someone you don’t know who’s calling you as you would with a text coming from someone you don’t know.
[00:03:46] Brook Ellis: This is scary.
[00:03:47] Julie Getz: All right, so the next one, oh, this is a fun one. It’s called, “How to spot a scam…” Okay, are you ready, Frank? How does, I use this platform all the time in buying and selling. “How to spot a scam … on Facebook Marketplace.”
[00:04:05] Frank Abagnale: You know, whether you’re spotting a scam on Craig’s List or Facebook Marketplace, you know you have to avoid deals that seem too good to be true. You have to look out for ads that display a sense of urgency; you have to do it right now, you have to give me the money this moment, get me a green dot card, read the number on the back. You have to watch for deals where the seller asks for money upfront to secure the item you’re purchasing. And if an ad offers an item for sale that doesn’t match the image, well it’s likely a scam.
[00:04:36] Julie Getz: Got it. Okay, thanks.
[00:04:38] Bob: Okay, Frank, my turn. “How do I know … that a phone call might be a scam?”
[00:04:44] Frank Abagnale: They’ve done a much better job now giving scam alerts with the major phone companies like AT&T and Verizon, et cetera, but the Federal Trade Commission previously linked these area codes to the scams: 268, 284, 473, 664, 649, 767, 809, 829, 849, and 876. The bottom line is that if you receive an unexpected call or a text from an area code you don’t recognize, don’t answer it. Do a google search to see where the number is actually registered and where that phone call’s coming from.
[00:05:22] Bob: Okay. Brook?
[00:05:24] Brook Ellis: All right. “What are scammers doing with gift cards?”
[00:05:28] Frank Abagnale: Well, you know, gift cards are just another form of payment, but the thing about gift cards, much like bitcoin or cryptocurrency, it’s not traceable. So if I ask you to go down to the store and buy a gift card and read me the number on the back, that’s all I need to get that money, but you have no way of knowing where that money went, who got the money, so it’s very difficult to do any tracking with gift cards, and this is why criminals like them. They’re also able to ship money around the world, they can launder money with gift cards. There are many benefits to criminals with gift cards, and because there’s very little regulation on gift cards and they’re not very traceable, it’s a great form of payment for, for criminals.
[00:06:12] Brook Ellis: Yeah, that’s a question I think I’ve always had since we started this show, because we hear this so much about people being asked for iTunes gift cards, and all of these, and I was like, what are they doing with the gift cards, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense; it’s not traceable and easy to move.
[00:06:27] Frank Abagnale: Absolutely.
[00:06:28] Julie Getz: All right. Next one is, okay, “Did Frank Abagnale … really escape from a plane?”
[00:06:36] Frank Abagnale: Ah yes, I did. Unfortunately in the movie they showed me walking into the bathroom on the plane and escaping through the toilet, which is an impossibility to do. I actually escaped from the kitchen galley where they service the plane and bring food onto the plane while the plane was taxiing, which was in the evening at night at JFK on the ground, and it stopped, of course, and was holding, and that’s when I jumped off the plane. But it was from there, not from the toilet. I was desperate, but not that desperate to go down the toilet.
[00:07:10] Bob: This is fun. Okay, I’m jumping in. Okay, “Is Frank Abagnale … on social media?”
[00:07:19] Frank Abagnale: No. I am not on any type of social media at all. I would rather spend my time being a good husband, a good father, and a good grandfather than spending my time on social media.
[00:07:32] Bob: “Is Frank Abagnale … writing another book or working on another movie?”
[00:07:38] Frank Abagnale: Not working on a book or a movie, just finished “Scam Me If You Can” with AARP which I thought was a great educational book, and I’m sure there’ll be an opportunity to write another book as crime is constantly changing, but at the present time I’m not doing that. I'm just working on uh, obviously, doing a lot of presentations, fortunately, right now, virtual, but later on in the year I’m sure I’ll be back on the road doing those live presentations.
[00:08:04] Bob: And I think this is one everybody can’t help but think listening to your stories, “Is Frank Abagnale … a genius?”
[00:08:14] Frank Abagnale: No. And I never thought of myself as a genius. As I explain to people many times, when I look back on my life and things I did, I believe that the success I had between 16 and 21 was just the fact that I was an adolescent, and because I was an adolescent, I felt no conscience about what I was doing. I had no fear about what I was doing. I didn’t premeditate everything. Everything simply came as an opportunity. So if I was in front of a bank and I was going to go in and cash a $500 check, I didn’t sit there and think to myself, okay, here’s my plan. I’m going to go in, if they say this, I’ll do this; if they do that, I’ll do that. I just went in and did it. I’ve always believed that if I had been a little older and started doing those things when I was 21 or 25, I probably would have never even attempted to do half the things I did because I would have said and rationalized everything and said that I’ll probably get caught, it won’t work. But because being just a teenaged boy, I think that that being young gave me the courage and the things, to try the things I did, and I always thought of myself more rather than a genius, as just a young opportunist who saw things and realized how to use them as a shortcut to getting somewhere else.
[00:09:27] Bob: Okay, and now this is the last question I have, and I think it might be a pretty good question to end on. Frank, “Is Frank Abagnale ever surprised by any of the things we talk about on The Perfect Scam?”
[00:09:37] Frank Abagnale: Yes, I am, to be honest with you. I cannot get over the dollar amounts, and since being involved with AARP and The Perfect Scam, it amazes me that say, for example, we learned about a woman in Iowa, 82 years old, lost $400,000 on a Jamaica sweepstakes scam, and so the dollar amounts still amaze me, even with all of my background and 45 years of doing this.
[00:10:01] Bob: Well, Julie, Brook, and of course, Frank, thanks. This was really fun.
[00:10:05] Frank Abagnale: Great, thanks, Bob.
[00:10:06] Julie Getz: Thanks, Bob.
[00:10:08] Bob: If you or someone you know has been a victim of a fraud or scam, call AARP’s free Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can help you know what to do next and how to avoid scams in the future. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Producer, Brook Ellis; Associate Producer and Researcher, Megan DeMagnus; our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez; and of course, Fraud Expert, Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP’s The Perfect Scam, I’m Bob Sullivan.
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AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.
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