Catch Me If You Can !
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com


A while ago, on my televion screen I stumbled on to an interesting movie and watched it: 'Catch me if you can!' starring Leonardo di Caprio. The film, set in the 1960s, was regarding conman Frank Abagnale, who as a teenager fooled people into thinking he was a Pan Am pilot, masqueraded as a paediatrician, and as a professor despite dropping out of high school at 15….. and cashed bogus cheques to the tune of $2.5m in 26 countries - leading to his memoirs becoming the inspiration for this hit movie. In a five year spree of forgery, fraud and impersonation, this American - the subject matter of the film I watched, had earned for himself a reputation as America's most gifted con man.

But Abagnale is no longer a crook. His life as a con man ended when the French police eventually caught up with him at the age of 21. Arrested and sentenced to 12 years jail at the end of the 60's, the 26 year old had served a total of just five years in French, Swedish and American prisons, before he was given a second chance by the American government - early release in return for his skill and expertise. He was released on the condition that he would help the US government fight fraud - in particular, identity theft.

Over the last 25 years as a secure document consultant to the FBI and thousands of international corporations and businesses around the world - including the company that produces Australia's passports and credit cards, Abagnale is now known as one of the world's leading experts on document fraud.

Reports indicate that in the US there were 750,000 victims of identity theft and related consequences in the year 2000, which number soared to 9.9m, with victims losing some $47.5 billion (£25.25 billion) by end of 2004. Compared to this, England was still scratching the surface despite a 500 per cent growth over the lasr five years. There were 119,000 cases in 2004 compared with just 20,000 in 1999. In India, may be scamsters are still to wake up to the fact that they can cash in on this avenue.

Recently, our own local headlines told us about "skimming", where one's plastic card details are nabbed by a fraudster to clone and use. One has also read about "phishing", which is to dupe people into giving bank details over the internet or phone. But identity fraud is not just a case of somebody stealing an identity simply to open a credit card and run up a bill of a couple of thousand dollars or rupees.

The con men now are known to operate on the definite premise that if one can get a credit card in somebody's name, they can go to a finance company and get a loan in someone else's name. If they can get a loan, they can get a car. If they can get a car then they can get a mortgage in the assumed name.

There are several types of scam used by fraudsters, but one of the most popular in America targets people with little credit - the elderly. Identity thieves drive through neighbourhoods to locate where an old person lives. They may see an elderly worthy pottering in the garden. On which, they can jot down the address and use the internet to find out who lives there and whether they have a mortgage on the house. If there is no mortgage they can borrow against the property posing as the owner. In about a month's time the pensioner will find he has a mortgage and will have to try to persuade his bank it wasn't he that took the loan out.

People today need to watch out for phone calls from someone who claims to have been at college with them. Before one realised it, they would have your name, place of work, birthday and address. Technological advances continue to make the life of an identity thief a lot easier. No longer do con men have to 'talk the talk' and 'walk the walk' - it can all be done from a hotel room anywhere in the world.

A computer, scanner and printer are all a scamster needs. One could log onto an airline's website for the logo to scan; then phone the airline to say "I need to wire some money" to them, to easily make them give the bank and account details. A copy of the airline's report and accounts will have copies of the chairman and chief executive signatures which can
also be scanned. Within 15 minutes one could forge a beautiful cheque and it would be days before anyone finds out about it. One could do it all from a hotel room, without any need for the charm, the spiel and the dress sense.

Sharing vital tips with interviewers, Abagnale claims he can get 22 pieces of personal private information on a person by simply knowing their address. That within a couple of hours he could find out the person's salary details, bank account numbers, marital status and national insurance number. But actually, that he needs only three pieces of information to get credit in someone's name - their name, date of birth and national insurance number.

Reformed professional fraudster Frank Abagnale, today a Security Consultant par excellence, is trying to convince the public that identity theft is going to be a major problem for thousands of people. He does this as his livelihood. He gives lectures and has written several books on the subject. He is also the author of 'Catch Me If You Can' published by Random House.

850 words: dated 10.05.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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