Catch Me If You Can

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Jun 09, 2006
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Commentary by Bill Bittner, President, BWH Consulting


The keynote speaker at this year’s Uconnect Conference in Nashville, Tenn. was Frank Abagnale Jr., whose life story was the basis of the 2002 DreamWorks movie, Catch Me If You Can, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.


Mr. Abagnale told the story of how he walked out on his parent’s divorce hearing at the age of sixteen and began forging checks. He went on to impersonate an airline pilot and pediatric surgeon, finally ending up spending time in prison in France, Switzerland and the United States. Once out of prison, he joined the FBI where he worked for 30 years with the agent who had pursued him all over the world.


It was very interesting how Mr. Abagnale pulled off his impersonations.


To become an airline pilot, he located the manufacturer of the uniforms and then went to the ID manufacturer to seek a sample ID of himself that he could use to make a proposal for switching manufacturers at his own company. He used the fake materials not to actually fly a plane, but to take free trips on the planes of other airlines.


He became a doctor by pretending to be a pediatrician when he moved into a singles apartment complex. A newly divorced neighboring doctor recommended him for an administrative position at his hospital, so he never actually operated on anyone but was able to take the position.


At first I could not make the connection between Mr. Abagnale and the conference. Then I began to consider what he had done. In today’s age of sophisticated identification systems and electronic surveillance, could someone duplicate his feats of 35 year’s ago?


We read about identity theft and impersonations all the time, but we don’t hear about the ones that go undetected. I am sure it has become more difficult but as long as there are human beings in the process, dishonest people will be able to pull off this type of scam. 


Moderator’s Comment: Do you think it is still possible for someone to change his or her identity despite all the new identification systems we have?
– Bill Bittner – Moderator

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7 Comments on "Catch Me If You Can"


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M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 8 months ago

Today, more than ever, identity change is possible. That’s because identity technology is so interconnected, interdependent, and internecine that making just one part of the system work causes a domino effect which makes each successive system validate the previous one. By whatever means, conquering either the Social Security system, or the drivers license system, or the birth certificate system, or the fingerprint system, or the biometric system – allows the dishonest to then topple each remaining system one by one.

Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Aaaahhhh Technology! It is a beautiful and yet mysterious thing. The more it attempts to disable — the more it enables. Just look at the market for radar detectors. Every advance in detection is driven by an advance in deception. Can people still disappear? More easily than ever.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
14 years 8 months ago

I don’t see why not. Why else would the FBI keep Mr. Abagnale around for so long? As sophisticated as our systems are these days, there always seems to be someone to figure out a way around them..Why else would we be changing the look of our money so often? And, unfortunately, there are certain terrorist attacks that involved false identities right under our government’s noses.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

The ones we don’t read about are obviously the successful ones; there’s no reason to believe that because they don’t get caught they don’t exist. Technology poses a challenge and an opportunity to those who feel inclined to use it for nefarious purposes. Security can increase the challenge but will never eliminate the opportunity.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Yup. I think it’s called identity theft and I believe (if you buy into all those television ads) that it is a growing problem.

Thomas L Potts
Guest
Thomas L Potts
14 years 8 months ago
I was in attendance and heard Mr. Abagnale’s keynote address. I have a background from a previous career in audit and security, both in a financial services company and a public accounting firm. What Mr. Abagnale did had little to do with technology. Based on Mr. Abagnale’s presentation, he was obviously a highly intelligent and resourceful individual that was forced into his life of crime by circumstances (16 years old and ran away from home). This was social engineering and had little to do directly with technology. By his account, he was able to see not just vulnerabilities in systems but in human nature as well. He presented a story about how he posted a sign on a safe deposit box at an airport saying the box was out of order and that deposits should be left with the guard (he was posing as that guard). Technology may change, but human nature never changes. So, any resourceful individual can discover vulnerabilities in systems and use the vulnerabilities of human nature through “social engineering” to break… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

As long as biometric identification remains largely unused, people can change their identities. Should biometrics become rock solid reliable and universal, identity change will become impossible.

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