Frank Abagnale says cross shred and forget ID cards

May 9th, 2006

ONE of America’s most famous fraudsters arrived in London yesterday to warn Britain about identity theft.

Frank Abagnale, 58, whose life story inspired the Leonardo DiCaprio film Catch Me If You Can, is to advise banks, utility companies and large retailers on how to combat fraud.

His advice to the Government is that identity cards will provide new and greater opportunities for identity theft. And he has told the public: never trust e-mail, buy a “criss-cross” shredder and employ a security company to monitor your bank account 24 hours a day.

Mr Abagnale’s CV includes a five-year spell in which he cashed $2.5 million (£1.3 million) from bad cheques, successfully assumed eight identities and passed himself off as a paediatrician, a lawyer and a pilot for Pan Am.

When he was finally arrested in 1969, Mr Abagnale was wanted by authorities in 26 countries and, after serving sentences in France and Sweden, was returned to the US and jailed for 12 years.

In 1974 he was released on the condition that he worked for the FBI. He has since worked for the US Government for 30 years and built a business advising American banks and companies on fraud prevention. He told The Times yesterday that identity theft, which began in America, was rapidly taking hold in Britain.

“I wrote a book about it in the 1980s,” he said. “There were few victims at that time, about 750,000. In 2000 I wrote another book called The Art of Steal. By then there were ten million victims. Now there is one every four seconds.”

In Britain, according to recent figures released by Cifas, the not-for-profit fraud prevention organisation set up by the credit card industry, identity theft rose by 17 per cent in the first three months of this year.

Besides being permanently suspicious of e-mails, Mr Abagnale said, individuals should regularly monitor their credit file — the information held by the credit reference agencies — to check which organisations have accessed it.

When destroying financial documents they should use a “criss-cross” shredder, which turns them into confetti, rather than one that cuts to strips as they can be reassembled.

In a list of 14 tips Mr Abagnale also urged people to take out “identity theft protection”. PrivacyGuard is one of a number of companies that monitor credit reports, alerting customers by text message if anyone attempts to tamper with or steal their identity.

If a theft is detected the company offers £10,000 of cover, which will also go towards the cost of reclaiming your identity. Three credit bureaus in Britain provide a similar service for between £50 and £70 a year.

Plans to introduce identity cards will be even more problematic because “there will be so much information about someone on one card”, Mr Abagnale said. “It’s more information to steal. You will be dealing with someone in a government office on a low salary. The details are going to be vulnerable. These sorts of cards are very easy to forge.”,,200-2171374,00.html

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