The Con-Artist: Frank Abagnale Jr.

In the 1970s, Frank Abagnale Jr. forged and scammed 2.5 million dollars before he was caught and convicted. However, it wasn’t just his genius that allowed him to commit these crimes with such finesse. Frank Abagnale Jr. was a pilot, doctor, and lawyer all before he turned 18 because he was extremely skilled at deception and persuasion. As seen in his track record, a string of arrests across the US and Europe, for car theft, fraud, and impersonation, along with several other lesser crimes, most of which he evaded. There is no doubt that Frank Abagnale Jr was a criminal. But was he also an artist?

The art of persuasion is aptly named, it comes in many different forms but is generally referred to as the act of getting someone to think or act in the way one wants. It requires techniques beyond the conventional. Often art is used to persuade people, whether that was the intention of the artist or not, i.e. (Propaganda and advertising). Art can come in as many forms as can be imagined. This includes performance art and even impressions. Forgery is also art for it takes a certain amount of skill and creativity to recreate something to perfection and to convince someone else that it’s real. Especially in the 1960s and 70s, the skills needed to forget the checks as Frank did require great study and mastery.

That being said, in this case, the forgery that Frank committed, might not be classified as art forgery since the checks that he forged had little to do with art, but he did convince many they were real. From big banks, and hotels, to Pan Am airlines. The art of this case is the persuasion and deception that Frank utilized. Unlike most crooks and thieves, the crime of the con man is the efficacy of his words. While his check forgeries were undeniably good. There is an art form in being able to make someone want to help you. Frank was able to convince people that he was meant to be wherever he was and that the check he was cashing was obviously real. As an airplane pilot Frank didn’t actually fly any planes, instead he used all the perks that come with being a part of the airline industry, traveling around the united states. Similarly, with impersonating a Doctor, he required no real medical skill, just the authority, and confidence to direct those who did. In all of these personas, he was able to cash checks with little to no investigations due to his authority positions, it wasn’t until the checks bounced that he was in trouble.

While in the end Frank was caught and sent to jail, he was let out very early on parole and helped the FBI on cases involving forgery and check frauds. Frank Abagnale Jr. is now a successful consultant, who has left crime behind. He has written several books and often does public talks about check fraud. Yet, it’s still unknown how much of his story is real, considering his past penchant for deception, it’s more than likely much of his story is embellished, or so say those who were scammed.

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Madeleine Gerson

4 thoughts on “The Con-Artist: Frank Abagnale Jr.

  1. This information is false.
    Frank Abagnale lied about his entire story, and he never worked with the FBI.
    He was stealing cars, robbing families and children, but he was never a “doctor” or a “lawyer”.
    He never stole “millions” of dollars.
    I am surprised that this website contains his fake story, instead of checking his public criminal records…
    Shame on you!

  2. I first learned about the story of Frank Abagnale from the movie Catch Me If You Can. I watched it almost decades ago and how Leonardo tricked fellows and polices in the movie really impressed me. Later when I learned that the movie is based on true story about a guy who managed to con millions of dollars during teenage, I was shocked. I think it’s pretty appropriate to place this story in art crime archive. It’s undeniable that he’s doing crime, but his skills of persuasion and transformation of attention can be really called art and used by psychology professors to give lectures on persuasion. And I have to say I was intrigued by his personal charisma. Besides what he has achieved, the reason why he conducted such a crime worth digging. Lacking parental love and attention might be one factor as depicted in the movie, but also social environments like his school life and big events happening to him may also play an important role in shaping his values and decisions.

    Btw I like how the end of this blog questions the validity and authenticity of Frank’s recent public speeches based on his previous deeds.

  3. Frank Abagnale, without a doubt is criminal and con man but, in his own way was an artist. To be able to decieve and be someone he was not was truly remarkable. It takes a large amount of skill to pull of what Abagnale was able to accomplish which is very impressive. There was movie made about him called, Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and, after seeing the movie I can just envision exactly how Frank interarcted with others due to how DiCaprio waas able to portray the character.

  4. I think this story about Frank Abagnale is quite interesting because it’s not something we normally think of as criminal. In my mind at least, he doesn’t fit the usual persona or “look” of a criminal. What I also find fascinating is his way to fully deceive so many people and companies of his work skills. The way he was totally able to impersonate a doctor and not only having the great amount of confidence, but using his confidence to convince hospitals that he was legit. It makes you realize the power confidence can do for people, but also concerns me that he was able to get away with doing so much and no one realizing he was scam artist.

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