Protecting ourselves and our money: tips from the most elusive ex-scammer
Frank Abagnale is an ex-con and fraud expert and author of the bestselling Catch Me If You Can. He is one of the world's most respected authorities on fraud, document fraud and cybersecurity. Abagnale told CNBChow to protect yourself from fraud.
Every year, millions of American consumers - almost 7% of the population - fall prey to fraud. In 2017, the number of victims of fraud in the United States reached 16,7 million, and their losses amounted to $ 16,8 billion.
For over 45 years I have worked, advised the FBI and hundreds of financial institutions, corporations and government agencies around the world to help them deal with fraud.
But my experience began over 50 years ago in an unusual way: I was one of the world's most famous fraudsters. Although I am ashamed of what I did when I was young — cheating, stealing, and harming people — I am grateful for the opportunity to change myself.
My story, which is described in my 1980 memoirs of the year “Catch Me If You Can,” gave me the opportunity to talk about preventing fraud to a wider audience.
On the subject: What to do if your social security number is stolen
Protecting Your Identity
Identity theft is the deliberate use of someone else's identity (such as name, address, social security numbers, bank accounts) to obtain money and loans, get a job, steal property, falsify educational and other documents, access healthcare, and more.
In the worst case, the identity thief depletes your bank accounts, takes your property and uses or sells your confidential information.
In 2017, a young man asked me a question that I hear often: "Given all the advances in computing and technology, is it not harder for today's criminals to steal your identity than it was in the past?"
In response, I told him: "No, this is not harder." In fact, today is about 4000 times lighter than it was then.
Technology is the best tool for thieves
Thieves love technology because they give them a convenient way to the details of your life.
Think about everything that is available to you with just a few clicks: credit card reports, bank account numbers, personal and family information. It's all there.
You just have to know how to look for it - and scammers are very good at searching and finding this information. With today's technology, a thief only has to go online, give the check-printing service his name and account number, send the checks to the mailbox, and voila, the contents of your checking account go there.
In the 1960s, when I was making fake checks under the name of another person - essentially stealing their identity - I needed a four-color printing press, typesetting equipment, and technical know-how to operate those machines.
Now all I have to do is go to the corporate website, take its logo, and then to the banking website to upload its logo. Then I need to call the billing department of the company whose data I plan to steal, and ask them to write instructions so that I can supposedly transfer the funds that I owe them.
These simple steps will allow me to find out which bank the company uses, and its account number in this bank. Then I go online to access the company's annual report.
And now I have a copy of the signature of the chairman or CEO on the report. I can put it on checks that I created thanks to a miracle of technology. All this is absolutely reliable down to the last detail (except that the money is not mine, and the check is a fake).
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Do not use a debit card
Want to avoid identity theft? Never, ever use a debit card. I have not it. I never had and never will. I do not recommend them to anyone - not my family, not my friends, not you.
The debit card is by far the worst financial instrument ever provided to an American consumer. Why? It's simple: every time you use it, you put your money and your bank account at risk.
Use a credit card instead. I use it for almost all of my purchases, even when traveling abroad. With credit cards, federal law limits my liability for unauthorized use of my card.
When I use a credit card, I spend money from the credit card company until I pay my bill at the end of the month. In the meantime, my money in the bank account brings me income.
If there is a big data breach and a criminal somehow got my credit card number and charged $ 1 million, I am protected and my credit card company will cancel the old card and send me a new one within the next few days.
I will not be responsible for any unauthorized purchases. However, if criminals get information about my debit card, I can lose money in my bank account and spend a lot of time recovering it.
Also, keep your use of checks to a minimum and be vigilant about frequent checks of bank statements.
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