On both sides of the law

    Medium US
    Business Spotlight 4/2024
    close-up of Frank W. Abagnale
    © Foto: Picture alliance/abaca
    Von Melita Cameron-Wood

    After he had allegedlyangeblichallegedly written more than 17,000 badhier: nicht gedecktbad checks, made over $2.5 million in the process and posed as a Pan American airline pilot to get free travel, the law finally caught up with Frank W. Abagnale. In 1969, he was arrested in Montpellier, France. He was only 21 years old but already a notoriousberüchtigtnotorious criminal. He spent six months in prison in France, another six months in Sweden and served about a quarter of his 12-year sentenceStrafesentence in the U.S. before being be released on paroleauf Bewährung entlassen werdenreleased on parole in his mid-20s.

    Abagnale’s incredibleunglaublichincredible story was immortalize sth.etw. verewigen, für alle Zeit festhaltenimmortalized by the blockbusterKassenschlager, Kinoerfolgblockbuster film Catch Me If You Can (2002), directed by Steven Spielberg, in which Abagnale is played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The portrayalDarstellungportrayal of a charming, intelligent con man (ifml.)Hochstaplercon man enchant sb.jmdn. begeisternenchanted audiences around the globe, and the film earned more than $352 million at the box officeKinokassebox office. However, behind the Hollywood glamour, there was a man struggling after his release from prison, losing multiple jobs before finding a successful career as a security advisor and consultant. Now 75, Abagnale spoke to Business Spotlight about the challenge of finding a job with a criminal recordStrafregistercriminal record.

    Did prison rehabilitate you?

    People want me to say prison rehabilitated me, but that’s not the case. When you’re in a prison environmenthier: Umgebung, Milieuenvironment, you become institutionalized. They take care of you when you’re sick. They feed and clothe you. Then, one day, they say: “You’re out of here,” and you realize you’ve got to pay rent and taxes. It’s very easy to fall back into offendingwieder rückfällig werdenfall back into offending. Every time I got fired from a job after they ran a run a background check on sb.Nachforschungen über jmdn. anstellenbackground check on me, I thought: “I’d better go back and do what I can do — commit sth.etw. begehencommitting crimes.” That was constantly on my mind until I met my wife. She believed in me, trusted me and knew that I could do something with my life. That’s when I decided that I would never do something like that again.

    People want me to say prison rehabilitated me, but that’s not the case

    What was the experience of being released from prison like?

    I had been deny sb. sth.jmdm. etw. verweigerndenied parole twice. The third time around, the parole boardhier: Ausschuss, Kommissionboard told me they’d consider my parole again if I agreed to educate federal law-enforcement officerStrafvollzugsbeamter/ -beamtinlaw-enforcement officers about white-collar crimeWirtschaftskriminalitätwhite-collar crime and fraudBetrugfraud, for no compensation. I agreed and was paroled to Houston, Texas.

    I needed to find a job to support myself. I went to a chain restaurant, and got hired to make pizzas. I never told them about my record. They made me assistant manager of the store. Every night, I’d close up the store, take the money to the bank and put it in the night depositNachttresornight deposit. Eventually, they asked me to be a store manager, but when they did a background check on me, they fired me. The same thing happened when I got a job as a bus driver, and stack shelvesRegale bestückenstacking shelves at night at a grocery storeLebensmittelgeschäftgrocery store.

    When did you have the idea of going into security?

    I told my parole officer: “If you send me out to do these seminars for federal law-enforcement officers, and they think they’re fantastic, why couldn’t I get paid to do that for banks, corporationUnternehmencorporations and retailerEinzelhändler(in)retailers?” He liked the idea, but I wasn’t allowed to leave the county. So, I went to a Target store and asked to speak to the loss-prevention manager. I said I’d like to give their employees a seminar on how to spot sth.etw. erkennenspot forgedgefälschtforged checks. If they didn’t think what I said was worth anything, then, it’d be free. But if they found it useful, I’d accept payment. That led to other Target stores and banks both in Houston and outside of it. They gave me permission to go and speak. That’s how I started my career — because I was basically forced to do so.

    How transferable were the skills that you’d used in criminal activity in a lawful profession?

    I quickly realized that people were very naive[wg. Aussprache]naive. They did not look at things the way I do. bank tellerKassierer(in)Bank tellers had no official training, and bankers were dumbfoundedsprachlos, verblüfftdumbfounded after my seminars. I teach people to think outside the boxunkonventionell denkenthink outside the box, understand social engineeringsoziale Manipulationsocial engineering and how information is obtained. Although I can’t code, I work with tech companies to improve their cybersecurity because I have a criminal mindsetEinstellung, Denkweisemindset. They develop technology and then ask me what should be fix sth.etw. richten; hier: (Fehler) behebenfixed. If you think you have a foolproofnarrensicherfoolproof system, you’ve failed to take creativity into take sth. into accountetw. berücksichtigenaccount.

    Show your employer that you want to change your life and do a good job

    What job-seeking advice do you have for ex-convictEx-Sträflingex-convicts?

    Hold your expectations down low and consider positions where the company does not feel like they are putting anything or anyone at risk by hiring you. A convicted burglarDieb(in)burglar with no formal education might consider applying to be a truck driver, for instance — in the U.S., this can be a well-paid job.

    Be transparent with your employer. There will be people who won’t hire you, but telling the truth will make them see you as more honest. If you do get accepted, you won’t have to live with the fear that people will find out and fire you. Show your employer that you want to change your life and do a good job — it could lead to a promotionBeförderungpromotion.

    Do you often feel judged for your past?

    If I’d robbed a bank or committed a violent crime 50 years ago, I wouldn’t be judged as badly as I am today. If you commit a fiduciarytreuhänderisch; hier: durch Veruntreuungfiduciary crime — con sb.mdn. reinlegen, betrügenconning somebody, stealing money or doing something unethical — it’s a lot harder for people to overcome because they don’t know if they can trust you.

    What would you advise HR (human resources) departmentPersonalabteilungHR departments to do if they receive an applicationBewerbungapplication from an ex-convict?

    Give them an opportunity. Obviously, you’re not going to take on an embezzlerVeruntreuer(in)embezzler in your bookkeepingBuchhaltungbookkeeping department, but maybe you could hire them in a position that doesn’t involve handling money. You won’t do any harm if you put them in the right job.

    What was it like having your life turned into a blockbuster movie? Did it have any impactAuswirkung(en)impact on your career?

    People think it must be great having a film made about you, but when you’ve lived it, it isn’t. Even though Spielberg focuses on the redemptionWiedergutmachungredemption aspect, the film created a lot of notorietytraurige Berühmtheitnotoriety. I now get paid more to do the same thing I was doing before the movie, but nothing else has really changed.

    Which people are most vulnerable to scam (sb.) (ifml.)Betrug(smasche); jmdn. betrügenscams?

    elderly folks (ifml.)ältere LeuteElderly folks can be be susceptible to sth.für etw. empfänglich seinsusceptible to scamming. My book Scam Me If You Can: Simple Strategies to outsmart sb.cleverer als jmd. seinOutsmart Today’s rip-off (ifml.)AbzockeRip-off Artists deals with modern-day scams. The proceedsErlöseproceeds of this book went to the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), so pensioners don’t share their credit-card details over the phone or post a bondPfandbriefbond because they believe their grandson has been arrested.


    briberyBestechungbribery — offering money or something else of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in a position of power

    embezzlementVeruntreuungembezzlement — the act of stealing money that belongs to your employer or that you are in some way responsible for

    fraudBetrugfraud — an illegal trick performed for financial or personal gain

    forgeryFälschungforgery — an illegal copy or imitation of a signature, official document, banknote or work of art

    identity theftDiebstahltheft — the act of stealing and using another person’s name or identification, often for financial or criminal purposes

    insider trading — buying or selling shares in a company with the help of nonpublic information

    money launderingGeldwäschemoney laundering — the process of making money earned from an illegal activity appear legal


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