Maybe you're wondering how to make the scam phone calls stop. Perhaps someone has stolen your credit card number. Or you've been a victim of identity theft. Even if you haven't yet been the target of a crime, con artists are always out there, waiting for the right moment to steal your information, your money, and your life.
As one of the world's most respected authorities on the subjects of fraud, forgery, and cyber security, Frank Abagnale knows how scammers work. In Scam Me If You Can, he reveals the latest tricks that today's scammers, hackers, and con artists use to steal your money and personal information--often online and over the phone. Using plain language and vivid examples, Abagnale reveals hundreds of tips, including:
With his simple but counterintuitive rules, Abagnale also makes use of his insider intel to paint a picture of cybercrimes that haven't become widespread yet.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Smart People Get Scammed
I just wanted to die,” said Helen Anderson. “I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, because I was so tired of it never ending and I didn’t know what to do.”
Helen, sixty-four, was a victim of identity theft. She had worked in the operating room of a Seattle hospital and, like many nurses, had developed back problems because of the long hours she spent on her feet and the labor involved in maneuvering and lifting patients. By 2011 her legs had started to hurt so badly that she required back surgery, which prevented her from returning to work. Helen wasn’t worried about the loss of income. She had planned wisely for her retirement, enjoyed a solid credit rating, paid her bills on time, and owned her house outright.
Soon after she’d recovered from surgery, her daughter in Portland, Oregon, started to suffer from health problems. Since Helen was now retired, she had time to travel to see her. She left her home and her dog in the care of her niece, Samantha. Helen asked Samantha to promise not to allow anyone else to stay in the house. She had had a bad experience fifteen years earlier, when the sister of one of her hospital coworkers stayed with her for a week. Using information she had found in Helen’s home, the woman opened a credit card in Helen’s name. After discovering the crime, Helen confronted the woman, who then paid off the debt and closed the account. But the event left an impression on Helen, and she didn’t want any strangers in her house, especially not while she was away.
When Helen returned home from visiting her daughter, she was understandably upset to see another woman staying there. When Helen asked Samantha about the stranger, she explained that the woman, Alice Lipski, was a friend who had had a fight with her boyfriend and needed a place to stay. It would just be for a few days, and Samantha didn’t think Helen would mind. Well, Helen did mind, and asked that Alice be out of the house by the end of the week. She was right to feel uneasy. That feeling intensified when the branch manager of Helen’s credit union called her to tell her someone had charged $300 on a debit card that Helen had never used before. Now her account was overdrawn.
Helen went to her credit union office to fill out a fraud affidavit, and the lost money was restored. But the problems continued. A few days later, she received another phone call, this one from Wells Fargo. Had she just made $5,000 in charges on a credit card she’d never used before? No, she hadn’t. The card had apparently been activated from her home the week before, and the balance had been paid off with one of her own credit union checks. What was happening? Helen went back to her credit union. While looking over her account, the manager asked, “Did you just pay $500 from this checking account toward your American Express card bill online?” No, she hadn’t. Helen didn’t pay bills online. The manager told her to file a police report.
This was just the beginning of Helen’s identity nightmare. While Helen was trying to plug up the widening hole in her credit problems, Alice Lipski was methodically becoming Helen Anderson. On top of what Alice had stolen from paperwork at the house, she had also found Helen’s mother’s birthday through some basic social media sleuthing and an Internet background check. This information allowed Alice to negotiate the security questions and reactivate a canceled store card from Costco, setting new security answers that only Alice knew. In doing so, she effectively locked Helen out of her own account. She also signed Helen up for a credit-monitoring service. But instead of protecting Helen against ID theft, it gave Alice access to Helen’s complete credit history.
The credit report contained a great deal of information about Helen’s bank and store credit cards. Alice reported each card as lost or stolen and opened new replacement cards, each with a new and unique username and password. And then she started to use them. Next, she had photo IDs made up with her photo but Helen’s info, so she could effectively impersonate Helen in real life, not just online. Then Alice instructed the U.S. Postal Service to forward Helen’s mail to a post office box. Naturally, Alice used one of Helen’s credit cards to pay the monthly fee. She also had a valid-looking driver’s license made, and she had Helen’s Social Security number, thanks to the new Medicare card Alice had received in the mail. (At the time, Medicare cards still listed Social Security numbers on them.)
It took a while for Helen to notice that she was no longer receiving checks and bills in the mail. And then more calls came in from credit card companies asking about suspicious transactions. “I would call a card company and they would ask for the account number and password, and I couldn’t give them either one,” Helen said. She felt as if she were disappearing. She had to go to banks and stores in person and show them her driver’s license in an effort to convince them she was who she said she was. “I couldn’t prove who I was, because [Alice] could prove it easier than I could,” she said. Helen would cancel cards and reset information when she could, and there would be peace . . . for a while. But then a whole new set of charges would appear. Helen believes that more than $30,000 was spent in her name—at stores, restaurants, casinos, gas stations, and other places.
What Helen didn’t know at the time was that Alice was spinning out of control. She was a methamphetamine addict. Law enforcement experts say there is a discernible link between meth addiction and ID theft. But eventually an addict’s drug use escalates, making her more prone to make mistakes. Alice was writing bad checks on other stolen accounts to keep Helen’s accounts from exceeding their limits. After Alice’s boyfriend was arrested, she needed $10,000 to bail him out of jail. To get it, she drained Helen’s credit union account, along with three other accounts stolen from other people. She also pledged equity in Helen’s home to spring him from jail. Helen had no idea that her house, which she had lived in for forty years and owned outright, was in jeopardy until she received an angry call from a bail bond company.
“I felt like I was a nonhuman being,” said Helen.
The devastation that Helen felt is often the most damaging aspect of identity theft—or any type of fraud. Even if you can get your money back and restore your credit ratings, what may never leave is the sense of violation that comes with the knowledge that your home, family, and personal information have been compromised. Experts say the effects of fraud on individuals are similar to the psychological aftermath experienced by victims of violent crimes and war, ranging from anxiety to emotional volatility, depression to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
One night, Alice racked up $2,000 on one of Helen’s accounts on a Macy’s shopping spree. She was high, and in her haste to get out of the store, she left her purse on a chair. That handbag contained a meth pipe and all the tools of Alice’s trade and proof of her deceit: a tablet computer with information about her victims, fraudulent credit cards, and ten Washington State driver’s licenses in nine different names. Each one had Alice’s picture on it. When she realized she had left her purse behind and went back to retrieve it, it was too late. The police had been called and were already trying to track her down, but she was able to flee the store before they arrived.
Ultimately, it took six weeks for officers to find and arrest Alice. They learned she had accumulated these tools of her trade over the span of a few months, and with the help of a small team of accomplices, including a man named Dino, who crafted fake IDs so authentic-looking they fooled experienced bank tellers, and another named Brian, who had the skills to calculate algorithms used to determine driver’s license numbers, Alice was charged with ten counts of identity theft. She and her colleagues had stolen close to $1 million from Helen and other victims. Alice was successfully prosecuted but cut a deal that would limit her jail time if she successfully completed drug rehab.
The funds Alice had stolen were restored, because Helen filed the appropriate police reports, but her life will never be the same. Her financial future remains uncertain as she struggles to clean up her damaged credit. After this ordeal, she sold the house that she had called home for forty years and moved in with her elderly mother. Helen is often stymied by the arduous paperwork she needs to fill out to get credit bureaus to correct her record and is fatalistic about the possibility of future fraud. “My information is out there for another scammer to use,” she said. Unfortunately, this will always be the case.
Every year, millions of American consumers—nearly 7 percent of the population—are victims of scams and fraud. Criminals everywhere, from people in your own community to international rings, are looking for opportunities to take advantage of you. In 2017, the number of fraud victims in the United States reached 16.7 million, with $16.8 billion lost. Victims lose not just money; they can spend hours trying to resolve scams. And worse: Scams can alter and ruin lives.
In this book, I reveal the truth behind the methods used by the world’s most skillful con artists to steal billions of dollars each year from unsuspecting consumers. And I give you very specific steps to protect yourself and your family. I’m writing this book now because in my anti-fraud work I see how quickly scams and scammers are advancing. It’s frightening. I also see firsthand how devastating fraud can be.
Scam Me If You Can draws on my own expertise working on the front lines to combat fraud. For more than forty-five years, I’ve worked with, advised, and consulted with the FBI and hundreds of financial institutions, corporations, and government agencies around the world to help them in their fight against fraud. I also serve as the Fraud Watch Network Ambassador for AARP, a nonprofit with thirty- even million members. But my unusual blend of knowledge and expertise began more than fifty years ago, in an unusual way: I was one of the world’s most famous con men.