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Ex-con artist shares how to outsmart scammers

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — Criminals armed with personal information are getting more crafty with scams. They’ve come up with schemes so intimidating, people are handing over money and personal information out of fear they’ll be arrested for not paying a tax bill or that their social security number will be revoked.

Frank Abagnale, an expert on con artists, gave a “Stealing Your Life” presentation as part of AARP MN at the Mayo Civic Center Thursday to teach the community how to avoid scams and prevent themselves from identity theft. For more than 40 years, he advised the FBI, fortune 500 companies, among other organizations on how to outsmart con artists.

When Abagnale was in his teens, he posed as an airline pilot, an attorney, and a doctor, cashing in millions of fraudulent checks. Eventually, he was caught and landed in prison. Abagnale’s exploits were featured in the movie “Catch Me If You Can” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Hundreds packed the Mayo Civic Center theatre to learn from him.

“A relative of ours got called that their grandson was in trouble and that he needed money. They were on their way with the cash, and nearly paid off the scammer,” said Annette Johnson, an attendee.

Abagnale says the minute someone says you have to send money right this second, that’s a red flag.

“So I say to you, look, you need to go down to Walmart, get a green dot card, call me back with the number on the back. That’s how I get my money. You have to give me your credit card over the phone. You have to tell me your bank account number so I can wire the money out of the account,” he said.

Scammers can also make the caller ID say whatever they want including the Social Security Administration, the IRS, even your bank.

“To verify you have your card in your possession, can you read me your three numbers in the back,” said Abagnale.

So, who is behind these scams?

“50 years ago there were conmen and conwomen. They were very well dressed, very likable people, they created a relationship with you, you really got to trust them, and eventually, they conned you out of your money. But, being a human being they were a little bit compassionate. So they might say, ‘I’m not going to take all her money, I’m just going to take a little bit of her money.’ Today, the conmen are simply someone sitting in their pajamas on a laptop with a cup of coffee in their kitchen in Moscow, in India, in China. They’re thousands of miles away, they never see you, you never see them, there is no relationship and so they will take you for every penny you have,” he said.

Abagnale adds it’s nearly impossible to go after scammers.

“We don’t have jurisdiction to arrest someone in another country, prosecute them and bring them back here.”

Keep in mind, a lot of the information criminals ask, these institutions should already have. It’s healthy to be skeptical and remember that actual institutions will never tell you to wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards.

And it doesn’t matter who you are, anybody can be scammed. Last week, a 20-year-old woman lost $10,000 to a person claiming to be the Rochester police chief.

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