Frank Abagnale Jr., the convicted forger whose life was chronicled in the movie "Catch Me If You Can," told a crowd of CPAs and attorneys that one of the reasons that the annual losses from white-collar crime now top $660 billion -- roughly twice the budget of the U.S. military -- is the alarming lack of ethics, in terms of both formal company guidelines and curricula in school."Every company should have a code of ethics that they give to employees," said Abagnale, the keynote speaker at an anti-fraud conference sponsored by the New York State Society of CPAs and the Foundation for Accounting Education. "And it should be part of the educational curriculum. They don't teach ethics in school."He said that executives at companies are six times more likely to commit fraud than managers, and 14 times more likely than rank-and-file employees. To illustrate the magnitude of modern fraud and theft, Abagnale said that bank robberies last year constituted some $64 million. By contrast, American Express alone recorded $2.5 billion in consumer fraud losses."It's 4,000 times easier to do today what I did 40 years ago," said Abagnale, who served time in prison for forgery and fraud, before becoming a nationally known security consultant to banks and Fortune 500 companies. "Technology has made that possible. Cellphones can snap a picture of someone writing out a check and capture all the information that a forger needs." He added that the evolution and sophistication of printers and scanners have made check copying so simple that even 12-year-olds have been charged with forgery. In 2004, check fraud reached $19 billion. And in addressing the frightening rise in identity theft, Abagnale said that there are now several Web sites that offer personal information -- including a subject's Social Security numbers -- for a small fee. "Identity theft is only limited to one's imagination."
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