Plastic Conartistry

Ripping off people, banks, and credit card companies by pretending to be someone that you’re not probably happens a lot, but I thought this story was apt because of the Las Vegas connection. From the Times Online:

IT WAS almost as if Youssef Babbou had been watching the 2002 Steven Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can, the mostly true story of a celebrated American conman who pocketed $2.5 million in the 1960s by forging cheques.

But times move on, and paper has been replaced by plastic. Babbou, a Tunisian, was sentenced by Croydon Crown Court yesterday to four years in prison for a series of scams against credit card companies that provided him with a life of luxury. He had already served prison terms in France and Italy for similar offences.

His was a world of Mercedes-Benz cars, Rolex watches, diamonds from De Beers and shopping sprees in Harrods. He admitted in court to receiving £117,000 worth of goods and services by deception, but prosecutors said that the figure was a mere “glimpse of the offending”.

In the film, Frank Abagnole Jr assumes the identities of an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer to milk bank accounts. Babbou, 49, turned to the “rich lists” published by magazines and pretended to be a variety of millionaires who had lost their credit cards.

His principal target was American Express. Posing variously as a golf partner of Bill Clinton, the boss of a chain of Las Vegas casinos, the head of a leading finance company and inventor of part of the space shuttle, Babbou would ring an emergency number and ask for duplicate credit cards to be sent to an address that he supplied.

On November 15, 2004, Babbou reported the loss of a card belonging to Frank Fertitta III, head of a chain of US casinos. He went to an American Express office in Knightsbridge, where he was able to secure a replacement card by providing a false identity. He then drew £10,000 using the new card as guarantee, and over the next three days spent £10,000 at Harrods, more than £5,000 at Gucci and £10,000 at Watches of Switzerland.

He helps to design space shuttles and plays golf with Bill Clinton!

I guess the guy had a good idea, because most people in the US couldn’t pick Frank Fertitta, Dennis Baake, or Robert Golisano out of a a line-up. But he got caught, and is going to jail.

I was also interested to learn that Frank Abagnale only earned $2.5 million for fraud, but $20 million for writing books about his fraud. Maybe the moral is that crime doesn’t pay, but writing about it does.

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