Catch Me If You Can By Frank Abagnale & Stan Redding

  • A true story about Frank Abagnale, who began his career as a despicable con artist but later culminates to a respectable consultant.  
  • The 3 factors of the most successful check swindlers are personality, observation, and research.
  • Be yourself but learn to direct your knowledge into the right channels.

Book Summary + Notes

Summary

Frank Abagnale was just an ordinary but talented kid when his family’s break up set him off to pursue a career as a con artist at the age of 16. His first endeavour lasted for 5 years within which he successfully built his portfolio as a pilot, a supervising doctor, a sociology professor, and a lawyer while swindling money across the world through counterfeit checks.

His 5-year-adventure eventually ended up in roller coasters as he was incarcerated in France, Sweden, and finally in the US, his birthland. In the interim of his first and second endeavour, he suffered from post-prison penalty inflicted by society upon the convicts, particularly when it comes to seeking employment. While his talents should have propelled him in his career, it was never able to neutralize his status as an ex-convict.

At risk of of returning to his former illicit lifestyle, Frank was fortunate to have met a supportive, rational, and unbiased parole officer, to whom he broached his idea of providing trainings to clerks and cashiers on proper handling of checks to prevent frauds; all based on his vast knowledge and experience as a con-artist. Within 3 years, he is known as one of the nation’s most popular crime authorities, with offices in both Houston and Denver, a highly-trained staff, and gross revenues approaching $3 million.

In other words, he went from being a scurrying rat who masks his status as an impostor by introducing himself as “Frank Abagnale, the pilot, doctor, etc.”, to a glamorous, successful entrepreneur who proudly introduces himself as “Frank Abagnale the impostor”.

Lessons

The 3 factors of the most successful check swindlers are personality, observation, and research.

“Of course, as someone once observed, there is no right way to do something wrong, but the most successful check swindlers have 3 factors in their favor, and any one of the three, or the scantiest combination of the three, can pay off like 3 bars on a slot machine.”
1. Personality 

“The first is personality, and I look on personal grooming as part of one’s personality. Top con artists, whether they’re pushing hot paper or hawking phony oil leases, are well dressed and exude an air of confidence and authority. They’re usually, too, as charming, courteous and seemingly sincere as a politician seeking reelection, although they can, at times, effect the cool arrogance of a tycoon.”

We often hear that a glance is all it takes for people to evaluate you. In other words, people are quick to judge.

Would you rather trust a businessman dressed in a casual t-shirt and a pair of torn jeans or a businessman dressed in an immaculate suit? Similarly, would you trust a doctor who slumps his shoulders and stammers as he speaks or a doctor who walks and talks confidently?

Owing to the halo effect, being well-dressed and exuding an air of confidence and authority will undoubtedly initiate a positive feeling from your prospects towards you.

2. Observation

“The second is observation. Observation is a skill that can be developed, but I was born blessed (or cursed) with the ability to pick up on details and items the average man overlooks. Observation, as I will illustrate later, is the only necessity for successful innovative larceny. A newsman who did a story on me noted, “A good con man reads sign like an Indian, and Frank Abagnale would have made the best Pawnee scout on the frontier look like a half-blind tenderfoot.”

Observation skills are often what allows us to see opportunities that are obscured to the majority of people. In fact, Frank Abagnale was able to get rich off the ignorance of bank personnel who failed to notice the faulty numerical codes on the checks. The errors would have been obvious if the person with the responsibility for cashing checks have had the tendency to build his or her expertise and knowledge of checks.

While Frank himself was born with a meticulous vision, he noted that it is a developable skill.

3. Research

“The third factor is research, the big difference between the hard-nosed criminal and the super con man. A hood planning a bank holdup might case the treasury for rudimentary facts, but in the end he depends on his gun. A con artist’s only weapon is his brain. A con man who decides to hit the same bank with a fictitious check or a sophisticated check swindle researches every facet of the caper. In my heyday as a hawker of hot paper, I knew as much about checks as any teller employed in any bank in the world and more than the majority. I’m not even sure a great many bankers possessed the knowledge I had of checks.”

A trait that differentiates between a robber and a con artist which, in positive and socially acceptable acts, resembles that of a speculator and an investor. A speculator is prone to make investments and then hopes to gain money while an investor will often research and get to know as much about a business or company before investing in it, thus minimizing the risks and increasing the chance of earning.

Be yourself but learn to direct your knowledge into the right channels.

“Actually, I haven’t changed. All the needs that made me a criminal are still there. I have simply found a legal and socially acceptable way to fulfill those needs. I’m still a con artist. I’m just putting down a positive con these days, as opposed to the negative con I used in the past. I have simply redirected the talents I’ve always possessed.”

You don’t have to change who you are. Being yourself is always the best bet in life. No matter what your skills or talents are, there are people who will appreciate them if you can use them in a way that can help people.

While the sound of being a con artist is most likely to attract feelings of contempt, Frank has managed to use his expertise as a con artist to establish his authority as a consultant; to which he says:

“Today, if I walked into a crowded room and wanted to impress the people therein, I could impress them more by saying, “I’m Frank Abagnale, the impostor,’ than if I were to be the old Frank Abagnale, posing as a pilot, a doctor or whatever.”

Personal Thoughts

I’m particularly amazed by everything Frank Abagnale did; both during his 5 years of felonious career and when he culminated after having to start from scratch. Though I do not admire his wrongdoings, I certainly admire his tremendous courage, observation, and critical thinking skills.

Frank’s story reinforced my thoughts that the history we create in our life, regardless of good or bad, are valuable experiences. And the outcome we produce will depend on how we direct our talents, skills, and experience.

This is a great book for people who are discouraged about their skills, talents or past, or people who seek an entertaining and adventurous read.

Rating: 10/10

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About Stephanie Jyet Quan Loo

Founder of stephaniejq.com, a science geek, sports freak, and polyglot. Loves food, books, and snow. Feel free to say hi! 

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