Search IconIcon to open search

Scam Me If You Can: Simple Strategies to Outsmart Today's Rip-off Artists - Frank Abagnale

Last updated Aug 29, 2023


# Metadata

# Highlights

# Foreword by Keith Slotter

And he was freely available! I tried to at least pay for his travel and expenses, but he’d insist that I only tell him where to be and when. (Location 71)

white-collar crimes (Location 85)

# Introduction Smart People Get Scammed

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. (Location 155)

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). (Location 163)

AARP, a nonprofit with thirty-seven million members. (Location 189)

I was tall, which made me appear older, nicely dressed, and very polite. I knew that certain kinds of people were more apt to come under my spell than others. Pretty young women, older people, and those who felt I represented authority were all good targets. (Location 199)

# What’s Your Scam Quotient?

Psychology is the most important tool scammers use to defraud victims (Location 335)

children are some of the most vulnerable people when it comes to medical ID theft (Location 341)

Banks never send their customers emails that ask them to click on a link to verify personal information (Location 343)

There is never a fee to collect legitimate lottery winnings (although you may have to pay taxes on them!) (Location 345)

Pop-up windows telling you that your computer has a virus are scams to get money and/or infect your computer with malicious and destructive software programs (Location 352)

Most passwords used by scammers are stolen—not guessed. Long, complex passwords are as easy to steal as short, simple ones (Location 354)

Share your photos after you come back—don’t signal on social media that you’re not home! (Location 356)

Avoid rental companies that require up-front fees and monthly membership dues to access listings of low-cost rentals, pre-foreclosure rentals, or rent-to-own properties. Most are scams. Moreover, if the landlord or agent wants a fee to show you the property, it’s a scam (Location 363)

It’s very easy to order any birth certificate from a county clerk’s office (Location 370)

# The Playbook Exposed: Recognize—and Beat—the Con Artist’s Game

Once a con identifies your triggers, he uses them as part of the pitch to drive you to a heightened emotional state. (Location 424)

The con gathers an arsenal of information by being personable and being friendly (Location 427)

Once the emotions and memories come flooding into the target’s mind, the target connects those feelings to the person on the other end of the phone. (Location 436)

Never engage a stranger in dialogue about your personal life. (Location 440)

Scarcity, urgency, and flattery are three hot buttons often used together by scammers, unscrupulous salespeople, and others who want to talk their victims into agreeing to unfavorable deals. (Location 447)

Make it a nonnegotiable personal rule to give yourself one full day to think about any financial decision. This will diminish the emotion attached to the pitch and give you time to think without any pressure from anyone else. (Location 473)

limited-time offers are rarely legitimate. Even supermarkets put grocery items on sale in weekly rotation! If you don’t get the eggs on sale this week, you can get them on sale in a few weeks. (Location 490)

Don’t get swept up in desperation or quick fixes. Look for alternatives. (Location 510)

Big-win scams rely on outlandish claims presented in legitimate-sounding ways to get you under the ether. (Location 533)

Never agree to anything in an excited state. (Location 549)

The overarching principle that scam artists rely on is not a target’s lack of intelligence but how easy it is to manipulate a target’s emotional state to a place where trust is established. (Location 570)

As Robert Cialdini writes in Influence: Science and Practice, in a technologically advanced world where we are bombarded by information, we often fall back on a decision-making approach based on generalizations that allow us to act with a limited amount of thought and time. (Location 622)

# RULE #1 Protect Your Identity

# 2. How Identity Thieves Work

When we use credit cards, we’re using the credit card company’s money, not ours. (Location 680)

“deep web”—a place that requires logins for the databases and websites found there. (Location 688)

Tor software was developed by the U.S. Navy in the 1990s so that intelligence agents operating overseas could communicate anonymously with colleagues in the United States. It was released to the public in 2003 as open software, (Location 694)

Shred anything that has your name and other identifying information about you: (Location 714)

The best shredders have “high-security micro-cut,” which means the shredder turns your mail into confetti. (Location 720)

Having multiple major credit cards can be a good strategy if you want to separate purchases into categories and save some money, but only if you pay the cards off on time. (Location 765)

If I do have to write a check, I use an inexpensive gel pen, because that ink cannot be washed off. Look for gel pens with specially formulated ink that becomes trapped in paper, which helps prevent criminal check washing and other document alterations. (Location 781)

Notify the police. In all likelihood, the police won’t do anything to recover your wallet, but you want a record of the theft. Have the police write up a report, and keep a copy; it provides you with a record for insurance and other purposes. (Location 801)

An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues you credit, so it may try to contact you for this purpose. (Location 816)

To prevent criminals from using facial recognition software to steal your image, avoid posting full-face photos, like passport photos, which make it easy to take the precise measurements that recognition software depends on. Instead, stick to group shots and angled poses so that it’s difficult to get those measurements. (Location 895)

A credit freeze (or security freeze) prevents a would-be identity thief from opening new credit cards in your name. It works by denying access to your credit reports, (Location 906)

it’s a good idea for everyone to freeze their credit for extra security. And it’s now very easy to do, because in September 2018, credit freezes became free in the United States. (Location 910)

# 3. Tax Fraud and IRS Scams

Murfield then realized what had happened to her. But it was too late: $650 was gone for good. She filed a police report and called a local television station to tell her story, in hopes of helping others avoid the same scam. (Location 1002)

The IRS won’t call you before writing to you first. (Location 1005)

In 2018, the IRS issued a warning about a new twist on an old phone scam. In this one, criminals program their computers to display the TAC telephone number on your caller ID to convince you that you are getting an authentic call, (Location 1019)

The IRS never endorses a tax preparer or accountant. (Location 1090)

If a tax preparer pegs his fee to the amount of your refund, walk the other way. Accountants don’t work on percentages. They work either on an hourly basis or for a flat fee. (Location 1093)

# 4. Sick: Medical Identity Theft

If someone gains access to your medical files or insurance card and uses them to get services, you might receive improper care because the thief’s medical information can become mixed up with yours (Location 1170)

Security procedures are only as good as the people who implement, maintain, and monitor them. (Location 1260)

It wasn’t until 2015 that the government passed a law requiring that Medicare and Social Security numbers be different—something I lobbied hard for, as did AARP. (Location 1268)

Criminals are patient and have been known to wait five years or more to use stolen information, so credit monitoring and ID protection need to be done long-term. (Location 1294)

Training should be frequent and updated as new threats appear and new solutions are identified. Proper data security should be an integral requirement of every job that requires employee access to data, and employees should be evaluated on these criteria. (Location 1300)

Portable devices such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops are easily lost or stolen—and can be left in a place where an unauthorized user can help himself to information. (Location 1304)

Awareness is the best place to start, and businesses are paying more attention by looking for vulnerabilities in their computer systems, running mock scenarios, and holding employees to higher standards of accountability. (Location 1313)

# RULE #2 Secure Your Finances

# 5. Protect Yourself Against These Bad Investments

All investment involves risk, but promises of low risk with high returns is a huge red flag. (Location 1376)

Any investment tied to markets is likely to offer variable returns. Paperwork that indicates no variation in returns is another huge red flag. (Location 1379)

Registration provides investors with access to key information about the company’s management, products, services, and finances. (Location 1382)

Be suspicious if you do not receive a payment or have a hard time cashing out your investment. (Location 1394)

no decision on any financial investment should be made without researching it first. (Location 1437)

One way fraudsters gain the trust of group members is to persuade one person, perhaps in a leadership position, to buy into the investment. (Location 1473)

When trades are done for the benefit of the broker and not the client, that is called excessive trading, or churning. It’s not only unethical but illegal. Under the law, even one unnecessary trade can be considered churning. (Location 1477)

The safest plan may be to pay a credentialed financial adviser for a couple of hours of work to put together an insurance program that is right for you, especially when it comes to life, long-term (Location 1578)

To understand advisers’ credentials, how they are compensated, and what fiduciary obligation they have to you, you should ask a series of questions that they should be more than happy to answer. If they are hesitant, act offended, brush off questions, or try to change the subject, they could be scammers. (Location 1583)

If you just want someone to execute trades for you, you may not need a fiduciary. But if you want someone to manage your money with the highest standard of care, you may want to consider one. (Location 1614)

# 6. Small Business Shakedowns

You don’t owe anyone anything for a product that was sent unsolicited. You’re not even required to return it. You can refuse delivery of unsolicited goods, or you can accept delivery and keep or dispose of the item in any way you see fit. The law defines such items as unconditional gifts. (Location 1669)

Do not even click the X button on the pop-up to close these windows, because that is another way scammers can infect your computer with a virus. (Location 1801)

According to the IRS, W-2 email phishing scams are one of the most dangerous tax scams. (Location 1837)

If your business or organization receives a suspect email requesting W-2 data, report it immediately to the IRS. Send the full email to and use “W2 Scam” in the subject line. (Location 1845)

Antivirus and anti-malware programs should be programmed to conduct regular scans automatically and eliminate threats immediately. (Location 1865)

# 7. I’m (Not Actually) from the Government: Social Security, Government Grants, and Other “Official” Scams

One investigation revealed that half of the twenty most frequent lottery ticket winners in New Jersey were licensed lottery dealers or retailers, or family members of store owners. (Location 1998)

Don’t pay a fee to get a grant or sweepstakes winnings. (Location 2042)

we trust the government to have our best interests in mind. That’s why it’s so important to know the signs of an official-sounding scam so you can protect yourself and others. (Location 2062)

# RULE #3 Preserve Your Digital Presence

# 8. Fend Off Cyberattacks

Someday, more and more people will come to realize that social media websites are not necessarily good things: If you can control the psychology of two billion people, the risk of real harm becomes insidious. (Location 2092)

Most hacking happens because companies and individuals open digital doors or fail to close them. (Location 2096)

antivirus software only works against threats that are well known (Location 2107)

Man-in-the-middle attacks are especially easy over Wi-Fi, but they can take place anywhere on the Internet (Location 2193)

Be careful about giving strangers physical access to the vehicle. (Location 2286)

The tickets look incredibly real, thanks to new handheld digital printers that can create authentic-looking tickets. (Location 2290)

The Google Chromebook is widely considered by experts to be the most secure operating system on the market. (Location 2317)

Beware of “skimmers,” malicious card readers used by thieves to steal your credit card information. (Location 2329)

Don’t charge your devices with anything other than your own chargers plugged directly into the wall or into your adapter. (Location 2340)

Never connect any USB drive or other removable media to your computer unless it’s one that you own. (Location 2341)

Mobile threats are less likely to occur in China, India, Brazil, and Russia, because they are not as prosperous as the United States or the UK. Language barriers make Japan, Germany, and some other countries less attractive targets. (Location 2354)

# 9. Passwords Are for Treehouses: Why We Need to Get Rid of Them

social engineering (that is, manipulating someone into revealing personal information). (Location 2452)

SIM swap. The National Institute of Standards and Technology no longer recommends the use of these one-time passwords, to avoid this very scenario. (Location 2455)

Trusona helps companies to wean their consumers off passwords—for good. (Location 2504)

Screen them against lists of known compromised passwords. and are two examples of websites where you can do this. (Location 2525)

Once an identity has been sold, the money is used mostly for illicit purposes. These funds are used in additional crimes—far worse than just stealing money. (Location 2549)

As the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke is believed to have said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Location 2551)

# RULE #4 Safeguard Your Home and Hearth

# 10. The Calls That Just Keep Coming: Robocalls and Nuisance Calls

And if, when you answer, it’s one of those prerecorded telemarketing calls, know that those are always illegal unless you’ve given your written consent, whether you’re on the Do Not Call Registry or not. (Location 2627)

But if the intent of spoofing is to help or legitimately protect callers and those being called, then the law says it’s okay. (Location 2632)

It’s also legal for someone from a business or organization to call you from what appears to be the company’s main or 800 number, not the direct line of the person making the call. (Location 2636)

One-ring calls are a common ruse to prompt you to call the number back to find out what the call was about. (Location 2741)

# 11. Great Real Estate Ruses

The checks look so authentic, even banks are fooled—especially when a regular customer brings one in for deposit. The fraud is revealed once the check is processed, and the person who deposited the check is on the hook for any of the money already spent. (Location 2789)

you also have to be wary about landlords who don’t seem to have much interest in your credit history or background at all. (Location 2845)

just because a company places a large or impressive ad doesn’t mean it is honest or does quality work. (Location 2952)

Legally, contracts for $500 or more must be confirmed in writing, but it’s a good idea to have a written contract for smaller projects, too. (Location 2962)

Don’t pay for the job in full until it is completed properly, necessary inspectors have signed off, and you approve of the work done. (Location 2976)

Keeping our homes, even temporary ones, safe and secure as we move through life is important to our financial, physical, and emotional security. (Location 2994)

# RULE #5 Shelter Your Heart

# 12. It’s Personal: Fraud That Hurts More Than Just Your Wallet

Cut the wire. Never wire money to strangers. (Location 3094)

All states have a window of time within which a birth mother can change her mind after the birth of a baby, and that time frame varies from state to state. (Location 3212)

Taking pictures of documents and then emailing or texting them is not good enough. Scanning documents is also not acceptable, because photos and scans of documents can hide tampering or changes. (Location 3219)

keep the lines of communication open between your loved ones. Discuss matters when they arise; don’t wait. Settle disputes quickly and fairly, and be willing to compromise. (Location 3266)

# 13. Charity Scams: Giving Back, or Dodgy Donations?

charity could give as little as one-half of 1 percent of what it takes in to its cause and remain within the boundaries of the law—as long as it does not mislead donors or lie to them about where money goes. (Location 3277)

It is extremely important to report crimes, and calling 911 about a crime against an animal is legitimate, legal, and appropriate. (Location 3371)

# 14. Love You Knot: The Wild World of Dating Scams

Dating scammers use common interests and membership in groups to connect with people and establish a basic level of trust. (Location 3576)

Prisoners would use the small amount of money they received at prison jobs to place ads looking for pen pals and romance, and they would also answer ads from people looking for companionship, especially those with sad stories (Location 3609)

I told him he can press charges and she can be found and prosecuted. But he refused, telling me his family would be upset to learn he had been communicating with someone behind bars, and that he had sent her money.” This is one reason why prison love scams (as well as other dating scams) are underreported or not talked about at all: People feel ashamed and embarrassed. (Location 3631)

It didn’t occur to me until much later that I had taken advantage of their emotions and feelings, and that in many ways is much more hurtful than taking money or possessions from someone, (Location 3685)

# Epilogue Fraud, Fast Forward

I’m always concerned that the next big privacy breach will be individuals’ search engines or personal search histories. (Location 3699)

One of the problems with complex malicious codes is that they can be studied and adapted for use by bad actors. (Location 3727)

“There is no reason why a birth certificate cannot be issued, at birth, that contains a chip with the child’s fingerprint, since fingerprints are fully developed at birth,” said Benson. (Location 3773)

Blockchain is the way of the future. It is the best way to secure information, and to secure it 100 percent. (Location 3795)

AARP’s Fraud Watch. Sign up at (Location 3809)

When in doubt in considering a financial commitment, get a second opinion. (Location 3823)

we have to get back to forming strong communities where people know and look out for one another. A lot of fraud happens in isolation and online. (Location 3829)

A 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania found that using social media for more than thirty minutes a day may lead to depression. (Location 3831)

# Stay vigilant, stay informed, and keep in touch.

You meet very few professionals in your lifetime; Karen Kelly is one of the few. (Location 3854)