The Art of the Steal by Frank Abagnale

The-Art-of-the-Steal-Abagnale-Frank-W-9780786121373The Art of the Steal
How to Protect Yourself and Your Business from Fraud, America’s #1 Crime
By Frank W. Abagnale
2001
Read by Barrett Whitener

This book is enthralling and funny and useful. I definitely recommend it.

I just started a new job (yay!) which comes with an hour-long commute (hmm), so I’m starting to look at audiobook options. I started listening to this one when my hour-long commute (which would be half an hour if it weren’t for rush-hour traffic) turned into a two-hour-long commute due to construction. I give this audiobook full credit for saving my sanity. It’s not only well-read, but the reader is well-matched to the author. I have no idea what Abagnale actually sounds like, but in my head, he sounds just like Whitener and not much at all like Leonardo DiCaprio.

The DiCaprio reference is not as random as it might at first appear. The character of Frank Abagnale was played by DiCaprio in the movie based on Abignale’s autobiographical book, Catch Me If You Can. He was a con-artist for five years, from age 16 to 21, and then managed to grow up and started to understand consequences. Since being released from prison, he has made a career out of helping businesses avoid being conned in one way or another. Interestingly, this book is apparently his first effort to reach an audience of small-businesses and private individuals. The Art of the Steal goes over a lot of the major methods of fraud, how they are perpetrated and how they can be avoided or at least dealt with.

I think the part that I found funniest was Abagnale’s suggestion on what to do to embezzler’s. Since embezzlement is really difficult to prosecute, and often has more major consequences for the victim than the perpetrator, most companies just cut their losses and let the perpetrator go with no reprisal. Abagnale suggests filing an IRS form letting the IRS know that the company “paid” the perpetrator the amount that was embezzled. The criminal and civil court systems might not do much to embezzlers, but the IRS is not at all nice to tax dodgers. The thought of using the IRS as your personal attack dog just cracks me up.

There were also a lot of descriptions of awesome and interesting science projects and social science experiments that I would love to try out if only they weren’t both illegal and malicious. (Is it really that easy to set up an entirely new identity? I kind of want to try it and see! But I won’t. Because I am moral, I am lazy, and I don’t want to deal with potential consequences.) But there are all sorts of interesting ways to forge different types of documents and it’s fascinating to hear what they are and what their various strengths and weaknesses are.

The book contains eleven chapters, nine of which were excellent. The chapter on online and digital fraud was necessarily severely dated: this book was published twelve years ago and the digital/online landscape has changed a lot in the interim. The chapter on counterfeit objects too clearly highlighted the fact that Abagnale’s normal clients are big business: he conflates the issues of (a) getting high-quality goods without the expensive middleman with (b) getting low-quality goods with counterfeit expensive branding. These are different issues and should be treated differently.

Anyway, with those caveats, this was a fascinating book and kept me well entertained on my daily commutes. I definitely recommend it as being well-done, interesting and useful.

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