Tuesday, May. 26, 2009

Frank Abagnale

Of all the impostors on this list, Frank Abagnale may be the most well known — his years spent as a check forger, con man and faux airline pilot (don't worry, he never actually flew) were the subject of the 2002 film, Catch Me If You Can, based on Abagnale's autobiography by the same name.

Born in 1948, Abagnale proved to be a wunderkind of a con man, posing as a pilot for Pan Am Airlines in order to bum free flights at just 16 years old. When authorities wised up to his frequent flying, Abagnale posed as a Georgia doctor for a year before masquerading as an attorney in New Orleans, although this last role wasn't entirely fake — Abagnale did manage to pass the bar exam.

He was finally captured in France in 1969, and served six months in a French prison and six more in Sweden before being deported to the United States, where he was sentenced an additional 12 years in the federal pen. Despite two attempts to escape, Abagnale was paroled after five years, on the condition he'd help federal authorities uncover check forgers. After failing to find legitimate work, he parlayed his unique skill into a consulting career, advising banks and and businesses on how to avoid fraud. His firm, Abagnale & Associates, has made the 61-year-old a millionaire by legitimate means. Finally.

Read how fraud spikes during a recession.