It’s a question that plagues the technological age: how can we stop scammers and bad actors from stealing cash from innocent people? Frank Abagnale – former conman turned cyber expert – spoke at our Vantage Remixed conference this week on how we can all be more secure, and how we can ultimately fix the problem of scams.

Australians lose tens of millions a year to scammers online. Whether through confidence schemes, investment schemes or even romance scams, hundreds of thousands of us have been duped into parting with our money to the criminal hordes.

And it’s not just Aussies losing funds to the less-than-legitimate online. Millions of others around the world have been duped out of cash for decades due to scams. One such scammer and con-artist is Frank W. Abagnale.

Yes, that Frank Abagnale.

Abagnale is the subject of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 blockbuster film Catch Me If You Can. Starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, the film tells the story of Frank W. Abagnale as an adolescent, where he became a confidence man and scam artist who defrauded millions and led the FBI on a global chase.

After his arrest and subsequent conviction, Abagnale started working with the FBI to teach scams awareness, and these days he’s a world-renowned cyber security specialist, and author of his most recent book, Scam Me If You Can.

Abagnale said that not a soul on Earth is immune from being scammed, and new scams are being invented to dupe us every single day.

“The whole social engineering aspect of it of scamming hasn’t changed in 40 years. Scammers, conmen and criminals all stay the same, but the methods have changed significantly,” Frank Abagnale tells Adam Spencer at Vantage Remixed.

“In writing my book it dawned on me that these scams are scams that are 50 years old. It’s just the methods have changed. The criminal mind has not changed much at all. There is no foolproof system, and if you think there is you haven’t taken into account the creativity of fools. We can make it so difficult for a criminal, we have the technology, but if you don’t use it, it’s worthless. If you don’t use it, you’re becoming a victim!”

Abagnale added that the best way to protect people from scams is to educate them on the methods scammers use to infiltrate our lives. That way, we can all know what to look for when scammers come calling.

Passwords: flawed from the start

Abagnale added, however, that we need more than just education to protect us from scammers. Passwords – those tricky combinations we all have to remember to access our online gear – have been broken from the start according to Frank Abagnale.

“We have to do away with passwords. They’re invented for treehouses,” Abagnale said at Vantage Remixed.

His solution? Do away with passwords altogether and instead rely on identifying us by our smart devices and apps whenever we make contact with a secure system.

“[Passwords] were invented in 1964 and today that’s 72 years on and we’re still using them. We have developed technology to eliminate passwords and identify you by your device. You might walk up to an ATM with your iPhone and open the bank’s app and it identifies you from your device. If I call the bank’s call centre, they recognise my device and I’ll open the app to verify.

“There will be no security questions and they won’t know the answers, I’ll be recognised by my device. That technology is called Trusona, funded by Microsoft. We’re slowly now in Japan and Europe getting away from passwords, and I predict as Gartner does that in the coming years we’ll see passwords go away, and that will put a huge dent in cybercrime.”