Frank Abagnale, Jr.
Even if Frank Abagnale, Jr.
(pictured) only laid claim to a quarter of the capers he pulled off, he would still deserve a place on this list. While still in his teens, Abagnale commenced the first part of his life's work: fraud, in its various guises. Abagnale starting by writing bad checks on his personal account, but he soon realized the limitations of banking against his own name. To keep himself flush, Abagnale developed several ingenious ways of forging and counterfeiting checks. After nearly exhausting all his local banks, Abagnale devised a new wrinkle for his con that would keep him in the money and play on the public's trust: he would impersonate a pilot.
For the next several years Abagnale impersonated a Pan American World Airways pilot, "deadheading"—industry jargon for staff flying standby—on more than 259 flights to more than 26 countries. Each time he landed he would make the round of the local banks, cashing in on public trust and respect for airline pilots to cash his bad checks. At one point, Abagnale set up his own flight attendant intern program and flew around the world with an entourage of beautiful women cashing their "paychecks" as well as his own.
Abagnale also successfully impersonated a doctor, an attorney and a college professor, all for significant periods of time. When the law finally began to catch up to him Abagnale managed several daring escapes — including once climbing out of an airline bathroom onto the landing gear and leaping onto the runway — before finally ending his life of crime. Abagnale is now a world authority on counterfeiting and fraud detection, and he serves as a security consultant for several organizations, including the FBI. If any of this sounds familiar, it isn't surprising. The film Catch Me If You Can
was based on Abagnale's life.