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Booktalking "Stealing Your Life: The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan" by Frank Abagnale


Writing a personal check... purchasing items online... throwing out the trash, and bringing in the mail. You probably did not think that these activities could be putting you at risk, but you could be wrong. Personal checks are full of information that identity thieves relish. Hackers love stealing personal information online, possibly while sipping a cappuccino in the comfort of their homes. Thieves may also sift through your trash and steal mail.

How do you protect yourself? Investing in a paper shredder for home and office is helpful, among other things. What to do if you are a victim? File a police report, make a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, etc. Frank Abagnale is the real-life con man turned fraud prevention expert whose life the movie Catch Me If You Can is based on.

Stealing Your Life: The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan by Frank Abagnale, 2007

Frank Abagnale has served as an expert in fraud prevention since 1975. Abagnale estimates that 60% of American companies and government agencies have been hacked. He says that half of Americans do not balance their checkbooks, despite the fact that 39 billion personal checks are written a year, each one loaded with personal info such as name, address, phone number and check routing number. Around 1987, criminal investigators became aware of a new area of crime known as identity theft. Even dead people became victims of people who were using other people's names, social security numbers, and other personal info to exploit their financial resources or hide their real identities. (Identity thieves could be attempting to avoid criminal prosecution for past actions).

Where Thieves Find Your Information: Unfortunately, the proliferation of personal information on the Internet has made it easy for such criminals to attack. This is an under-reported crime... for some because they are embarrassed. Others simply are not yet aware that their identities have been stolen. Many people can see a check laced with so much personal information before it is finally cashed. That friendly customer behind you at the grocery store may be snapping photos of your check as you write it at the grocery store, capturing your routing number. People could be snooping in your garbage; after all, it is public property once it is placed on the curb, and anyone can legally go through it. That is why Abagnale recommends investing in a paper shredder for personal documents in your home.

Public records are accessible to anyone through the phone book, voter registration web sites, etc. Some web sites sell social security numbers for less than $50. On, you can obtain death records and other information about people. However, credit card companies do not keep track of deaths. People can also steal from mailboxes. Criminal identity theft organizations also exist, such as Darkprofits, Shadowcrew, etc.

I have been very concerned about identity theft since I began to use the Internet more in 1996. Some family members have been victimized by identity thieves, and I do not want to join them. That is why I avoid purchasing items online. I have managed to hold out so far.

Bad Credit? Perhaps a Thief is Responsible: Identity theft can lead to a bad credit history for victims, who can be denied loans, housing and employment due to someone else's malevolent actions. People should examine their credit card statements and call the credit card company for information about any charges that they did not make. It is also useful to keep track of the billing cycles of credit card companies, since they seem to be like clockwork. If statements do not arrive, a thief could have forwarded your mail to another address... and he or she probably will not be paying your bills.

Wall Street Money (100 dollar bill), Digital ID 1580696, New York Public LibraryAbagnale includes a section on 20 Steps to Prevent Identity Theft in the book.

  1. Check your credit report (
  2. Do not give out your Social Security Number (unless it is necessary).
  3. Protect your computer from viruses.
  4. Keep track of your billing cycles (credit cards).
  5. Examine your financial statements carefully.
  6. Guard your mail from theft.
  7. Invest in a paper shredder for personal documents.
  8. Practice safe shopping (online).
  9. Avoid dodgy ATMs.
  10. Be suspicious of unexpected letters, calls or visits.
  11. Put real (not easily guessable) passwords on accounts.
  12. Keep credit cards close to you when eating out or shopping.
  13. Use safe checks and sparingly (there is a lot of personal info on the check, including routing number, address and phone number).
  14. Secure your home and workplace (keep personal documents together in a safe place).
  15. Carry only what you need (you do not need your social security card with you always).
  16. Spring clean your credit cards (if you do not use them, get rid of them).
  17. Opt out (put your name on the National Do Not Call Registry).
  18. Read privacy policies (you can find out about limitations on your privacy).
  19. Protect a deceased relative from identity theft.
  20. Put fraud alerts on your credit reports.

Abagnale also issues instructions on What to Do if You Are a Victim of ID Theft.

  1. Call credit bureau fraud departments (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion).
  2. Disable all compromised accounts and documents.
  3. File a police report.
  4. Establish good records for everything.
  5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  6. Write your congressperson to support anti-identity theft legislation.

Farmington Club, Digital ID 1630355, New York Public LibraryPersonal Checks Drip Personal Information: Abagnale has changed my views about personal checks. I used to think that they were more secure than cash because thieves would prefer cash over personal checks. Not necessarily so. Personal information, such as name, address, phone number and routing number for the account are right on the front of the check. That check will probably pass through many hands before it is cashed... many opportunities for the information to be stolen. I think that I will take his advice, and I will limit my use of personal checks. I guess sometimes cash is safer, and I will have to think of other creative ways to keep my information private.

Catch Me If You Can: I became fascinated with Frank Abagnale after viewing the movie based on his criminal career, Catch Me If You Can. I also read the book that he wrote by the same title. Like most people, I compared the movie to the book and I found the differences interesting and revealing. He is definitely a brilliant guy and his story is fascinating.


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Insidious Identity Theft

September 2013 It is hard to believe the extent of damage that identity thieves can cause. The extent of their arrogance is rather mind-boggling. In a recent film called "Identity Thief," a disenfranchised orphan who is now grown up becomes an identity thief and con artist. Her escapades wreak havoc on the life of a young man and his wife and children. Although this film mirrored her malevolent adventures with a certain about of hilarity, the reality of identity theft is not at all funny! Some of the situations that identity thieves create are as follows: * Hacking into computers using the 32x virus. This virus slows down a computer almost to a standstill. People who got 100 or so e-mails per day then get about 10 instead. The perpetrator of the 32x virus then can commandeer the victims computer, reviewing all their e-mails, and in some cases using their identity to reply to those e-mails, and deleting the incoming e-mails before the recipient ever gets to see them. These predators usually send out e-mails that are either obscene or offensive to the persons friends and relatives, causing hosiity and alienation against the victim. I was the victim of that kind of scurrilous activity. * Another type of activity the identity thieves is the opening of accounts in other peoples names, or writing libelous letters about them to public newsletters, computer sites or any venue in which it is easy to do so. * If an identity thief lives in the same buiding as his or her victim, another tactic they use is mail tampering or changing the wiring on the person's doorbell, so that any person visiting the victim unwittingly rings the doorbell of the identity thief, and is confronted then by the identity thief posing as the victim. This only works for the predator if the visitor does not know what the person he is visiting looks like. Predators who resort to this kind of tactic are usually psychopaths with some treaturous agenda. * Another devious tactic of identity thieves is that if they are accused of a crime they give the name and address of other people in the hope that the other person would get blamed for what they are doing. * The very worst types of identity thieves are those who kill their victims and take on their identity. It is to be hoped that a conscienceless character such as that would be very rare. There are over 9 million identity thieves in the U.S. Some new immigration laws about to be implemented shall add on another 11 million illegal aliens in an amnesty program. Pray that those illegal aliens shall not usurp the identities of Americans. At this time there is a housing crisis, a gigantic deficit in affordable housing, a lack of jobs comparable to what occurred during the Great Depression years. There are 400,000 homeless people in NYC. There are thousands of people made homeless by hurricane Sandy, and millions living in tents in fields out in California. It is hard to imagine why bringing 11 million more impoverished people into the middle of all the chaos is going to improve the economy. The best way to avoid identity theft is to avoid giving personal information to any person you either do not know or do not trust. Also, avoid doing financial transations on the internet. Avoid replying to any e-mail which ask for personal information. Avoid using credit card numbers on the internet If you are ever besieged by troublesome phone calls, add your name and number to the "DO NOT CALL" list. If the person continues to make harassing calls, bring that information to the Attorney General's office, along with the fact that you are on the "DO NOT CALL." list. Nevergive your personal identification to other people, nor your bills (telephone or electricity). Bills can be used as identification by identity thieves. Last of all, pray that the country shall return to normalcy. There was a time in America many years ago, when morality was among people's priorities, that there was little or no identity theft. God bless you and your family and may He always protect you from identity thieves.

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