Frank Abagnale

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Frank Abagnale

Frank Abagnale, shown in 2003, now lectures on identity theft and consults on financial security for companies and government agencies.

John Li/Getty Images

Perhaps one of the most daring counterfeiters to ever perpetrate fraud, Frank Abagnale carried out his most prolific work when he was in his teens and early twenties. The name may ring a bell; Abagnale wrote of his criminal past in a memoir, "Catch Me If You Can," which was made into a 2002 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

Abagnale was a master forger of checks. He also proved adept at slipping through the fingers of the federal agents who pursued him, largely through his ability to move at the drop of a hat. His ability to forge checks and cultivate nomadic tendencies came together in an impressive criminal statistic: Between the ages of 16 and 21, he cashed more than $2.5 million in fake checks in all 50 states and 26 countries [source: Emwalt].

The counterfeiter was also a master confidence man fascinated with legitimate careers. When he took an interest in becoming a professional, he simply posed as one by forging the necessary certificates and diplomas. It worked well: He posed as a physician and lawyer, among other professions.

Abagnale's cool head in times of crisis also helped keep him from prison -- although he was finally captured by the French police and served time in several countries. (Ultimately he became a consultant on fraud and security for the public and private sectors.) In one instance, the FBI had his hotel room surrounded. Thinking on his feet, he emerged from the room and pretended to be a fellow agent. He instructed the real feds that were there to arrest him to continue their raid as he walked past them and slipped away [source: Bell].

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