Catch Me If You Can (book)

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Catch Me If You Can
First hardcover edition (1980)
AuthorFrank Abagnale Jr.
Stan Redding
CountryUnited States
PublisherGrosset & Dunlap
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover)

Catch Me If You Can is a book based on the early life of Frank Abagnale Jr., a former con artist. As a young man, Abagnale reportedly cashed $2.5 million worth of bad checks while impersonating a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, a teacher, and an attorney. The book is co-written by Stan Redding, and was adapted into a 2002 film of the same name by director Steven Spielberg, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent who pursued him.



The book details the life of Frank Abagnale, who was one of the most famous con-artists in the 20th century. It is written in the first person and describes how he cashed $2.5 million worth of bad checks. He assumed various jobs, such as pretending to be a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, a teacher, and an attorney. Abagnale was eventually caught by the FBI Agents, who had been chasing him the whole way, while living in France and then served approximately five years in prison — six months in France, six months in Sweden, and four years in the United States. The book ends with an epilogue telling the story of Frank Abagnale's final capture and the story of his rehabilitation, which resulted in the creation of his security firm.


Frank W. Abagnale is devastated when his parents decide to divorce. He runs away from home and starts cashing fake checks. He's only 16 years old but he looks 26. He uses this in his advantage by pretending to be a 26 year old. Soon he decides he can't stay in New York, because the banks in New York start to ask questions about him cashing in checks from an empty bank account. He goes to the airport and does some research. After some time he is able to fake a pilot license. Frank abuses the right that pilots have to fly for free. He travels throughout the United States and cashes fraudulent checks everywhere, in every city he passes. During his adventures he makes many friends and girlfriends. In some cities he stays for a few days, in others he stays longer.

Eventually, Abagnale settles in the city of River Bend. Here he has a very curious neighbor, and to avoid questions, he says he's a doctor. This is a mistake: His neighbor is also a doctor. Immediately, he makes a fake doctor's license, which later comes in handy. After some time they become friends and Frank goes to the hospital. There he is welcomed warmly; soon, he begins spending a lot of time in the hospital. In the hospital he meets Brenda Strong, whom he starts dating. His relationship with Brenda is different from other relationships he has had. Frank soon realizes he can't stay in River Bend because the FBI is getting closer every day. He continues his journey in the United States. At a particular moment he also fakes a Harvard diploma to pose as an attorney. A few months later he starts feeling the urge to cross the Atlantic and go to Europe.

Frank forges a passport and flies to France. In Europe, he continues traveling and forging and cashing checks. Later, when he goes back to the United States, he goes to a flight attendant school and makes his own fake crew: He tells the students he needs a new crew to take pictures for advertising. With his crew, he feels confident enough to cash even bigger checks. When his crew leaves and he restarts his con, the police gets closer to finding Frank. When he gets caught by the French police he goes to Perpignan's prison, where he is held in a very small, dark and inhumane cell. After getting released he is extradited to Sweden, where he gets a very comfortable cell at the Malmö prison. After staying there for six months he returns to the United States. Once back in the United States he escapes from prison twice, but is caught both times. He serves four years of his 12-year sentence in prison.

After being released, Frank has a hard time finding a job. He figures he should use his talents for a new job and starts his own firm. He now visits banks to teach the personnel how to recognize fraudulent checks.


The book is prefaced with the statement: "This book is based on the true-life exploits of Frank Abagnale. To protect the right of those whose paths have crossed the author's, all of the characters and some of the events have been altered, and all names, dates and places have been changed."[1]

After Abagnale spoke at a seminar in 1978, two years before the book's publication, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter phoned a number of institutions that Abagnale mentioned to confirm his claims and found no evidence for them. Abagnale responded that he doubted anyone would confirm them due to embarrassment. He later said he had changed the names.[1]

In 2002, Abagnale addressed the issue of the book's truthfulness with a statement posted on his company's website which said (in part): "I was interviewed by the co-writer only about four times. I believe he did a great job of telling the story, but he also over-dramatized and exaggerated some of the story. That was his style and what the editor wanted. He always reminded me that he was just telling a story and not writing my biography." Specifically he addressed details such as the amount of money he wrote in bad checks, and the years in which his crimes took place.[2]

Movie adaptation[edit]

The 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, directed by award-winning director Steven Spielberg, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale and Tom Hanks as Hanratty. The film is based upon his life and the autobiography and is mainly true to the source as Abagnale was a consultant to the writers, but some of the details were changed to create a more dramatic narrative for film.[3]

Musical adaptation[edit]

Abagnale's life has been adapted into a musical of the same name, which previewed on March 11, 2011, and opened on April 10 at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway. The show stars Aaron Tveit, Norbert Leo Butz, Tom Wopat and Kerry Butler. Butz won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical at the 65th Tony Awards in 2011.


  1. ^ a b Baker, Bob (28 December 2002). "The truth? Just try to catch it if you can". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Abagnale & Associates, Comments". Retrieved July 7, 2009.
  3. ^ ISBN 0-06-052971-7 by Frank Abagnale, Jr. and Stan Redding