“Let me Write you a Check”

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On Monday, May 22nd we were lucky enough to interview Frank Abagnale, the inspiration behind the movie “Catch Me if You Can” and current FBI agent. Though it is evident that Morris Knolls was fascinated by his exciting life of being a criminal at such a young age, it was clear when he was interviewed that he wanted to focus on the positives that came out of those situations. On top of that, Abagnale wanted to highlight to students at Morris Knolls that the actions he took were immoral and wanted to prevent the idolization of them. He explained that he never intentionally committed these crimes and that he fell into each situation due to coincidence and merely “took advantage of the opportunities he saw.” For example, when it came to his impersonation of a pilot he never formally decided to go ahead as one, he never had any intention of getting on a flight at all actually. His impersonation started when he decided to wear a pilot uniform in order to cash checks as many people at the time wouldn’t question a man in uniform, thus proving the “ yankees always win because of their pinstripes” statement shown in the movie.

In terms of the movie, Abagnale had a very small role in the making of it. Spielberg involved him as little as possible as he wanted a movie about Frank Abagnale in his teenage years and wanted to avoid the portrayal of what he is like now. In addition, Spielberg made the movie not because of Abagnale’s actions as a teen, but due to his actions after and the redemption that came with them.. Abagnale also added how “Leo” dubbed him one of the best actors he has ever seen as Abagnale was acting 24 hours a day, everyday.

As the interview progressed, one part that stood out and was unique was Abagnale’s view on prison sentences today as well as the differences between committing the crimes he did now versus when he was involved in them. Abagnale explained his experience being imprisoned in France when he was finally caught for some of the crimes he committed. Overall, his outlook demonstrated favoritism to the European style of “punishment instead of rehabilitation.”

When it comes to the crimes he committed, Abagnale explained it would be,“4000 times easier to do today”. With the technology available and widespread use of it, people could do what he did just as easily. In order for Abagnale to forge checks during the time he did, he had to find a printing press, perform color separation by hand, as well as use negatives and much more. According to Abagnale, the only crime he committed that would be harder to do today is the impersonation of a pilot and that’s only because of heightened security at airports.

Lastly, one of the main messages that Abagnale wanted us to hear was that he never did anything intentionally to hurt anyone. Through his forgery and impersonations as well as when he cashed fraudulent checks, he always asked himself “what if the teller got fired?”. It never entered his mind to steal from those who can’t afford it, even if he had the opportunity. He explained that at one point in his journey, at a laundromat, he walked in to find the cash register wide open without supervision. Here, he said he definitely could have taken the money, but ethically he said he couldn’t as these people couldn’t afford losing that money. As he was committing these crimes, Abagnale explained that he somehow always justified them to himself thinking that “my $500 won’t kill this bank” because it would be so minute compared to what they have that nothing would be affected.Now, his crime days are over as he has served his time and he has been working for the FBI for over 40 years. As he reminisced about his life throughout the interview and working for the Bureau he stated how his life has turned around and said that, “working with the FBI and the most ethical, honorable, and loyal people…. rubs off on you” His new job consists of protecting our country from things such as cyber attacks and other criminal acts involving forgery against the government.

In the presentation that Abagnale gave to the student body, he used experiences from working at the FBI to further educate and protect the students of Morris Knolls. With technology and social media being a big part of young people’s lives, identity theft is a huge problem. He warned against putting your birthday on your Facebook or Twitter accounts or adding photos of just your face for profile pictures because databases can use it to make a false identity out of it. Frank Abagnale made sure to stress how dangerous and how serious these problems were moving into the 21st century, something he has warned everyone about since the 1980’s in his book. Hopefully, many Morris Knolls students took his wise words and turned it into action when dealing with social media and technology.

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“Let me Write you a Check”