Hollywood’s portrayal of a young con man in the Steven Spielberg film Catch Me if You Can may seem a world away from Australia’s passport design, but the two have a remarkably similar heritage.
The movie was based on the life of Frank Abagnale, a juvenile delinquent who scammed his way through his adolescence by cashing fake checks and posing as an airline pilot, doctor and lawyer, among other professions.
At 21, Abagnale was eventually caught and imprisoned in France and Sweden before being extradited to the United States, where he was sentenced to 12 years for forgery.
He was released after four years on the condition that he serve the remainder of his term working for the FBI on fraud counterintelligence. Thirty-one years later, he is still on the job.
Abagnale, now an accomplished security consultant, speaks publicly once per month, and delivered the final keynote address at this year’s Cisco Systems Networkers conference on the Gold Coast last month.
“Normally when I take the stage to speak, it’s always about fraud, online banking, technology [and] computer crimes,” Abagnale said. “I have spent 10 years in Australia, coming to Australia every year; I helped design the Australian passport, all of the driver’s licenses in the states [and] the birth certificate used by most of the states.”
In designing items for commercial use, Abagnale claims to have worked for every bank in Australia “at one time or another” over the past 10 years, and has assisted companies like Lee Martin in Victoria to design better documents, checks, and instruments used in international money orders, postal money orders and credit cards.
Consulting to credit card manufacturers on the design of better credit cards, smart cards and technology in the credit cards helps keep them from being counterfeited and altered, Abagnale says.
“I have done that in this country and 41 other countries,” he said. “I have worked with the Australian Federal Police, taught at its academy, and worked with your customs and immigration people for years as I have in many other countries.”
Abagnale now holds 21 patents for components used in documents, cards, birth certificates and pharmaceutical products to keep them from being counterfeited.
His designs are used by companies like Unisys, document services company Standard Register, and around the world to secure documents and transactions.
“I designed software for Novell to be used for identity-management purposes for inside our government and outside in commercial use at financial institutions,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in numerous things today that we use to protect our governments as well as protecting our financial institutions from being victimized by counterfeiting, forgery, and things that still amaze and are still around today.”
Despite technological advancement, Abagnale believes modern fraud practices are no more high-tech than they were a generation ago, but still amount to billions of dollars in losses.
For the record, Abagnale said he was never involved with the film that made him a star, nor did Spielberg interview him before making the movie, which he said contained a number of errors about his life.
-Rodney Gedda, Computerworld Australia
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