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Frank Abagnale’s story of swindling millions of dollars from unwitting victims while posing as a pilot, lawyer and professor is the stuff of legend. In Catch Me If You Can (1980), he tells his tale.
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Frank Abagnale’s early life was innocent until his taste for women ignited his criminal instincts.
In 1948, Frank W. Abagnale Jr. was born in Bronxville, New York, to an affluent family. His father ran a stationery store in New York City, so the family was financially secure, and Frank’s early childhood was happy.
But things started to unravel when Frank became a teenager.
Frank’s father bought him an old Ford when the boy was 15 – a dream come true for any teenaged boy.
Naturally, girls started noticing Frank because of his car, striking the spark that ignited what became Frank’s lifelong avocation – chasing after beautiful women.
Working as a part-time warehouse clerk, however, didn’t provide the kind of income Frank needed for gas and to take girls out to dinner. So he did what many a teenager would do – he asked Dad for a credit card to cover car expenses.
His trusting father gave Frank his personal Mobil card, but told him that, while he would help him out within reason, most of the burden of paying off the debt on the card would be Frank’s responsibility.
Frank intended to be honest and do the responsible thing, until he discovered that he could charge things other than gas to the card. He could purchase a new set of tires, for example, or pay for other services. That discovery led Frank to scheme his way into “earning” $3,400 over three months in a series of scams.
How did he do this? Frank would charge a service on the card, but instead of buying tires or new windshield wipers, he’d convince the gas station attendant to hand over the value of the purchase in cash instead.
When his father ultimately received the bill and Frank’s schemes came to light, his mother sent him away to a boys’ reform school.
By the time Frank returned home, the family’s fortunes had suffered a tragic reversal. His father had lost his business and was now working as a postal clerk. Though Frank’s father seemed content in his new job, it was a blow to Frank to see his family’s fortunes destroyed.
So at the age of 16, Frank ran away from home to set off on his own.
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