Catch Me If You Can is the first book I've read that was recommended by the Wizard of Boz. It was a fascinating autobiography of one of the world's most notorious scam artists, one Frank W. Abagnale, who was known by the FBI, state and local authorities and a nice handful of countries worldwide as "The Skywayman." Now he's a highly respected FBI investigator with their Financial Crimes Unit and teaches at the FBI Academy what he's learned by practice, Abagnale's jaunts throughout the world are truly a piece of art. Between the ages of 16 and 20, he's presented himself as a jet liner co-pilot, assistant to a state Attorney General (passing the BAR exam on his third attempt without formal training), resident pediatrician at a children's hospital and hunkered down script writer in France among other things.
The scams that Frank pushed were based mostly on check cashing escapades. Fraudulent checks, further bolstered by such details as his pulling them out of a Pan Am posted envelope in front of the teller, netted him millions. He had caches of $20,000 or more in cash stuffed all over the world waiting for him to swing by and pick them up. Even though he made plenty of money upon which he could relax and retire from the game, he continued for as long as he could, wooed by the sense of adventure and challenges of moving into a new identity and forcing away disbelief of them all.
Frank concentrated on details. Like pulling the fraudulent check out of a Pan Am envelope as he stood before the teller in a Pan Am first officer's uniform. His wardrobe was real - he scammed Pan Am into telling him where to have one, got his hands on duplicate documents when needed and spent hours producing facsimiles bearing the information he needed for various causes, such as his Harvard Law course listing (he gave himself a 3.8 GPA) that got him a lawyer's license so that he could practice, his FAA pilot's license and a number of IDs. Or the use of blank check forms to create Pan Am expense vouchers that, while looking nothing like the real thing, looked real enough and legitimate enough to be passed at thousands of banks around the world. He's a master at the art of reproduction, keeping eyes on such minute details as how many perforated his check creations had so that they were more believable. His scams increased in the end of his career, as he learned from those he met along the way how to make realistic items - and even had them made for him.
Funniest of his scams was his use of the first officer's wardrobe to con not only desk jocks at airlines, but the pilots and co-pilots of the flights themselves, to allowing him to deadhead on any airline's jump seat, on any flight, to anywhere, at no charge - and with virtually no questions asked. He was never questioned because his appearance and demeanor was that of a Pan Am co-pilot, so he was assumed to be such. Judging a book by its cover, so to speak. He studied the jargon and flying manuals so he could readily converse with other pilots and copilots in flight without rousing suspicion. His calmness and cool attitude about the whole thing, even when once picked up by state police as a scam and questioned by FBI upon their arrival, has set to prove even to them that he was a genuine pilot. So they let him go. In prison one time he even talked the guards into letting him walk out. Simply mosey on out the front gate. He never became nervous, antsy or in any way showed a form of discomfort that authorities could pick up on. The book truly shows how gullible people can be.
Writing style is somewhat simplistic. Abagnale isn't a writer - he's a con artist. But as this is an autobiographical book, and it is written in the form of Frank having a conversation about his adventures, I can therefore forgive it. It's not very long and there's always something going on, and plenty of areas where you'll be amazed at what people let him do or how he pulls off various scams. So you'll read through it quickly. Catch Me If You Can is one of those few books that one can say is "for everybody." It'll make you think twice the next time you're sitting nervously on the plane and see the pilot pass by heading towards the cockpit - after all, maybe he's not really a pilot.
And one last detail that bears mentioning - why'd he do it after all? Girls. Makes sense, doesn't it guys?
"Catch Me If You Can" by
Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding
Published by Broadway Books
Copyright © 1980 by Frank W. Abagnale