Frank W. Abagnale Jr. was annoyed.
The Times of London had reviewed my 2019 book about serial liars, Duped, and a photo of Leonardo DiCaprio in full pilot regalia accompanied the piece.
It was the famous still from Catch Me if You Can, Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film inspired by Abagnale’s best-selling memoir from 1980.
Via email, the “reformed” con artist and author — who now advises businesses, banks, department stores and the FBI on fraud prevention and cybercrime — wanted me to know that it bothered him that “everyday someone writes an article about a bank robbery, forgery, con artist, or even cybercrime and they refer to me.
“The crime I committed was writing bad checks,” he wrote. “I was 16 years old at the time. I served five years total in prisons in Europe and the US Federal prison system. In 1974, after serving 4 years in federal prison, the government took me out of prison to work for the FBI. I have done so now for more than 43 years.”
He added that he had repaid all of his debts.
His distress surprised me.
Abagnale never seemed embarrassed by his past — not on To Tell the Truth nor The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson nor in high-paying speaking gigs around the country.
His grifter-made-good story was a huge selling point.
According to both Abagnale himself and his autobiography, in the mid-1960s and early ’70s, when he was between 16 and 21, he had impersonated a Pan Am pilot, flying some 3,000,000 miles to 82 countries for free.
He claimed to have posed as a doctor in Marietta, Georgia, a sociology professor at Utah’s Brigham Young University, and a lawyer in the lawyer general’s office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
During that period, he allegedly cashed 17,000