Catch Me If You Can Summary and Review

by Frank Abagnale and Stan Redding
Has Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale and Stan Redding been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. Did you ever think that being a pilot is an amazing job? What could be more exciting than flying every day and earning a lot of money? Truth is, becoming a pilot is an extremely difficult thing to do as it takes years of training and studying. But what if you could find an easier way to become a pilot? What if instead of going through all the hoops, you’d just buy yourself a uniform and pretended to be one? As crazy as it might sound, in the 1960s Frank Abagnale did just that. Because he couldn’t afford traveling the world, but he really wanted to, he decided to fake his way into Pan Am. He also wanted to have a lot of money so he started to swindle banks. As you might have already guessed, Frank Abagnale became an expert con artist. But how did he manage to pull everything off and get away with his crimes for so long? Well, Frank was used to pulling the wool over people’s eyes ever since he was a little child. From this book summary, you will learn how Frank Abagnale managed to do whatever he wanted for so long without being caught. Throughout Frank Abagnale and Stan Redding’s Catch Me If You Can summary we’ll discuss the following things:
  • how Frank was introduced to the world of swindling by a simple gas card;
  • how can someone fake a college degree; and
  • how the long arm of the law does eventually catch up with any con artist, even with Frank.
What did the Blinkist staff think of this book? “I loved this book summary for their glimpse into the incredible life of con artist Frank Abagnale. Although he was a swindler and criminal, the part where he is thrown into solitary confinement still made me feel for him.” – Clare, Editorial Quality Lead at Blinkist

Catch Me If You Can Key Idea #1: A taste for women ignited Frank Abagnale’s criminal instincts despite the fact that he’d been a relatively innocent young man.

Frank Abagnale Jr. was born in 1948, in Bronxville, New York. His family was affluent and financially secure as his father owned a stationery store in New York City. So Frank Jr’s childhood was a predominantly happy one. However, when Frank became a teenager, things started to change. When he was just 15, his father bought him an old Ford. Having his own car was a dream come true for any teenage boy, and Frank was no exception. Naturally, when you have your own car at 15, girls start to notice you. This sparked Frank’s interest and chasing after beautiful ladies became Frank’s lifelong advocation. But in order to pay for gas and to take all the girls out for dinner, Frank needed much more money than what he earned as a part-time warehouse clerk. So he found an easier solution, he asked his father to give him a credit card that would cover for his car expenses. Because at this point, Frank’s father had no reason to doubt his son, he gave the boy his own personal Mobil card. However, he told him to spend money within reason and to remember that paying off any credit card debt would be his own responsibility. At first, Frank tried to be responsible and honest, but as soon as he discovered that he could use the card to pay for other things and not just gas, he started getting new ideas. He could now use his card to pay for new car tires or for different services. This discovery led the teenager to scheme his way into “earning” over $3000 in just three months. But how did Frank pull this off? It was easy, the only thing that he had to do was convince the gas station attendant to give him money instead of products or services. So, whenever Frank paid for a new set of windshield wipers, the gas station employee would give Frank the value of the purchase instead of cash. In order for this scheme to work, Frank would probably share some of the money with the attendant. When Frank’s credit card bill reached his father’s hands, the boy was ultimately sent to a boys’ only reform school, in the hope that he would forget his mischievous ways. By the time Frank returned home from the reform school, he learned that his family was going through a very difficult time. His father was working as a postal clerk as he had lost his business and the family’s fortunes were gone. Although Frank’s father seemed quite pleased with his modest job, Frank couldn’t come to terms with not being wealthy anymore. Consequently, at the age of 16, Frank Jr. decided to run away from home and to make his own fortune.

Catch Me If You Can Key Idea #2: Pretending to be an airline pilot and cashing fraudulent checks were Frank’s first major schemes.

You might think that a 16-year-old teenager who ran away from home has limited career options. That might apply to anyone else but not to Frank, who always found ways of getting what he wanted. But what did Frank Jr. want? He only wanted to live a life of adventure and luxury. Frank left his parents’ home with just $200 in his checking account. As he set off for the big city, he soon discovered that his chances of getting a high-paying job, especially since he was a high-school dropout, were slim to none. The best job the Frank could get with his credentials was truck driver helper. This job only paid $2.75 per hour, so Frank had to use his resourcefulness to find a more efficient way to make money. Soon enough he discovered that cashing fake checks was quite easy, so that’s what he did. Frank Jr.’s upcoming criminal plans were, once again, fueled by his desire to attract more female attention. So, when Frank asked himself which job is the most irresistible and high-earning to the ladies, he immediately thought of a handsome, tall airline pilot wearing a uniform. Luckily, Frank had noticed early on that people thought that he was older than he really was due to his height. So, as you might expect, Frank decided to do become an airline pilot, but not in a traditional way, as he simply pretended to be one. He realized that no one would ever suspect a pilot for being a swindler or a crook and what was even more exciting was that pilots could fly anywhere they wanted for free. This was extremely helpful for Frank, as it helped him pursue his other swindling projects without raising any suspicion. So, the first thing that Frank did was getting an airline pilot uniform. Over the following months, he focused on honing the skills that he needed to fit his new career choice perfectly. In order to talk to a real pilot, Frank pretended that he was a student doing a report on his dream job. During his talks with the real pilot, Frank made sure he asked all the right questions. He also read a lot of books on the topic and spent a lot of time in airports in order to pick up the professional jargon and mannerisms. After a few months of thorough preparation, Frank was ready to put on his uniform and to report to “work.”
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Catch Me If You Can Key Idea #3: In order to keep up his con game, Frank took advantage of his talent for observation, of the lax regulations, and of course, of his luck.

Nowadays, due to the wealth of digital information and the increased levels of security available, it would be impossible to pull a successful con game such as Frank’s. Let’s take a closer look at the circumstances that enabled Frank to get away with his scams so easily and for so long. Frank took advantage of the lax airport policies of the 1960s. Frank’s con games took place long before terrorist hijackings and attacks were a threat. Back then, airport security was minimal for both employees and passengers. Frank’s scheme consisted of pretending to be a Pan Am (Pan American World Airways) pilot and deadhead easily around the world. Deadheading was a common practice in the industry and it allowed pilots to board any flight and go wherever they liked on claims that it’s a work trip. Pilots had special seats reserved on every flight for this purpose. So, Frank took advantage of these perks and traveled the world for free. Another advantage that he had while pretending to be a pilot was that he could stay at luxurious hotels that were reserved for airline staff. The bill would just be sent to the unsuspecting company Pan Am and he would be listed as a company employee. Frank’s ability to learn any skill quickly and his keen eye for detail were central to his success as a con artist. For example, he kept a notebook where he wrote down technical data, industry-insider phrases, names, and backgrounds of important airline people that he had met, their phone numbers and other miscellaneous info that might come in handy. In order to keep Frank’s scheme above water, this type of information was invaluable. What helped him maximize his persuasiveness as an airline pilot was the fact that he learned the fuel consumption of different airplanes, the altitude levels for planes flying east, and other such details. Frank also remembered the names of other pilots and their personal information. If, for example, he would deadhead a flight with three National Airlines pilots, he would always make small talk with them and ask them about their families and about other colleagues. And the other pilots would believe him, of course. After all, why wouldn’t they? Frank’s strategy was working and he managed to keep up his status and continue his game for a long time.

Catch Me If You Can Key Idea #4: Frank faked other professions as well including being a doctor, a professor, and a lawyer.

Frank didn’t limit himself just being an airline pilot. Because he was such a quick learner he managed to diversify his impersonations and he convinced many people of his cons. While spending time in Georgia, Frank decided that he wanted to pose as a hospital doctor, but this con was not as fruitful as the pilot one. Because he wanted to live in a very exclusive and expensive neighborhood, Frank had to fill out an application in which he mentioned that he was a “medical doctor”. One of his neighbors, who happened to be a real doctor, found out that Frank had just moved in and tried to befriend him. This forced Frank to do anything he could to keep up the appearances. But one day, to Frank’s surprise, his friendly neighbor asked a favor of him. He wanted Frank to take a shift supervisor position for a short period of time until the hospital management found a permanent employee. Frank couldn’t get out of the situation so he reluctantly agreed. Luckily for him, he soon realized that he could go to work at the hospital and get away with doing nothing. Because there were so many interns eager to take some work off his hands, Frank would pass all the work he got onto them. The interns were thrilled about Frank as they got to do important tasks and they felt that they were finally getting some real experience! After he got tired of playing doctor in Georgia for a year, Frank tried his hand at being a professor and a lawyer. While still posing as an airline pilot, Frank decided that he wanted to take the Louisiana bar exam so he faked a Harvard University transcript. Being a very intelligent guy, Frank passed the bar and even landed a job for the office of Louisiana State’s Attorney General. Unfortunately for Frank, this con was even less successful than his previous one after a work colleague who had actually been to Harvard kept asking Frank about his time at the university. Frank couldn’t handle the situation so he gave up his lawyer act and moved on. After he left Louisiana, Frank moved to Utah where he claimed that he had extensive experience as a teacher. In order to become a university teacher in Utah, he said that he had previously worked at the City College of New York. He faked a lot of recommendations and transcripts and got the job. We already know that Frank was a charismatic individual, so it comes as no surprise that his students loved him. He was doing a great job and his only efforts consisted of reading the chapters that he had to discuss during his lectures ahead of time. He would then lecture his students on different social problems based on his interesting and engaging experiences. His fellow colleagues were so impressed with Frank that when the summer term ended they asked him to try for a permanent position.

Catch Me If You Can Key Idea #5: Frank was finally caught and sentenced to jail after keeping up his lucrative and exciting con jobs for years.

How long could Frank con his way into millions of dollars, living a life of luxury and pretending to have some of the highest paying jobs available? At the ripe age of 20, after having spent 5 years traveling the world and pretending to be someone else, Frank decided to retire in Montpellier, France. Yet things did not go as Frank had planned. Soon after moving to France, Frank was detained by the French police. As it turned out, Frank has been on the radar of police officers from all over the world for years, but he wasn’t aware of it. Because he was on the move all the time, changing his name and location often, Frank wasn’t aware of how bad things actually were. As soon as the French police got a hold of him, Frank was sentenced to one year of prison in Perpignan. Spending one year in prison doesn’t seem so bad especially considering everything that Frank did. Unfortunately, the conditions in the Perpignan prison were almost medieval. Frank’s cell was only about five feet long and wide and he spent the entire time in solitary confinement. He didn’t have a bed, the cell had no lights and no toilet, only a bucket. For a whole year, Frank only ate bread and drank water. Because the prison guards would rarely empty his bucket, the floor of his cell was always covered in feces. Because of the terrible living conditions, Frank’s health began to deteriorate, he was severely malnourished and his arms and legs were covered in sores and scabs. Luckily for Frank, he was moved to a Swedish prison on different charges and he was treated more humanely there. After doing time in Sweden, Frank came back to the United States to face different charges. Throughout the following years, Frank’s live had ups and downs. He felt that he was a mere shadow of the man that he was when he was doing his con games. Once his sentence was served in the United States, it was very difficult for him to hold down a job due to his criminal record. For a while, he contemplating going back to a life of crime, but instead, he decided to go to a bank and offer his services. In his teens, he had learned how to detect false checks, so he told the bank employees that he could teach them this skill. Over time, thanks to his valuable knowledge, Frank became known as a white-collar crime specialist. His services soon became in demand by airlines, banks, and many other businesses that had security issues. Today, Frank Abagnale, a former con man, is a professor at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His career of deceit had a very fortunate and curious “end” as he is now teaching future agents how to detect and catch con artists such as himself.


What is Frank Abagnale’s Catch Me if You Can about? Frank Abagnale was a very resourceful and talented con artist whose natural inclination towards deception defied belief. Despite being only 15 years old, Frank was able to meticulously analyze and study the environments and people around him and to pretend that he was a lawyer, a pilot, and a doctor. He was eventually jailed and spent a few years in different prisons. But today, his skills proved extremely helpful as he is helping FBI employees how to deal with con artists like himself.
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