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Frank Abagnale speaks to Fargo crowd on recognizing scams

Former scam artist Frank Abagnale says as technology has advanced over the past 40 years, things have only gotten easier for scammers and fraudsters.

Between the ages of 16 and 21, Abagnale impersonated a pilot, a medical doctor and a lawyer all while writing 2.5 million dollars in bad checks in all 50 states and 26 countries before getting caught. He served time in prison in both France and Sweden before coming back to the US to serve 12 years in federal prison, and 4 years into his term he was offered a job with the federal government working for the FBI. He's also been giving lectures on behalf of financial institutions and corporations about embezzlement, check forgery and identity theft. For the past four years he's served as an ambassador for AARP to educate seniors about fraud and identity theft.

"I have always believed, my entire career, that education is the most powerful tool to fighting crime. So if I can explain to someone, whether it be a bank or an individual, and say 'this is a scam, this is how it works, you'll get this call, this is what they'll say, you'll get this letter, you'll get this email,' and lay it out for them then they're smart enough that the next time they get that call, that letter, that email - they'll know that it's a scam."

Abagnale is in Fargo sharing his expertise with senior citizens to help them recognize and prevent fraud and identity theft. He says fraud is "four thousand times" easier to commit today than it was years ago.

"Technology has certainly made it a lot easier today, and technology has made it much more global - so it used to be, 50 years ago, you were dealing with criminals within the United States. Now most of the crimes committed against the citizens of the United States are committed by people in China, Russia, India, thousands of miles away where you do not have the ability to arrest them, prosecute them, send them to jail. So it makes a lot more room for lots more types of crimes, and the internet makes it a lot easier to commit those crimes."

Abagnale's quick tips to avoid fraud include - don't post your date of birth or birthplace on Facebook, straight-on online profile photos are easier to duplicate with facial recognition software, shred absolutely everything with your name and address on it and only use credit cards, never debit cards. He also says fraudsters are always looking for two things - money or information, so be cautious of anyone asking you about those things.

Abagnale's exploits 50 years ago inspired the Hollywood film, "Catch Me if You Can," which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.