The True Story That Inspired Catch Me If You Can

The movie "Catch Me If You Can" tells the story of a teenage con-man, Frank Abagnale Jr. (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who runs away to escape a chaotic home life. On his journey, this kid manages to impersonate a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, get engaged, and bounce millions of dollars in checks before he turns 21. He is pursued by FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who is determined to catch Abagnale before he can do more serious damage. The film did quite well at the box office, raking in $352 million, and was rated highly by both critics and audiences, according to Mental Floss.

The Steven Spielberg-directed film was not some idea that he cooked up for an excellent movie plot. This story was based on the book of the same name, a memoir written by Frank Abagnale Jr. himself. Yes, he is a real person, and he was a real con-man who was busted by the FBI. The real question is, how many of his criminal escapades are true, and how many are embellishments to help sell a movie and more books?

According to Slash Film, the answer is somewhere in the middle. Frank Abagnale Jr. is in fact a real person. He did begin his criminal career at the age of 15, cashing fake checks and impersonating different kinds of people.

Some of the story is true, and some of it (maybe most of it) isn't

Abagnale (above, left) managed to elude the FBI for years while he pursued his various shenanigans. Per Business Insider, he did impersonate a doctor and a lawyer, even going as far as passing the bar exam in Louisiana. Arguably his most fantastic accomplishment was impersonating a Pan Am pilot by getting his hands on a uniform, forging his own pilot's ID and FAA license. He then used his new found status as a pilot to crisscross the country and forge his checks and perpetrate his fraud.

Many of the scenes in the film seem impossible for anyone to pull off, especially a teenager. Turns out, there are definitely a few things in the movie that are not exactly true. For example, the FBI agent who caught Abagnale was not named Hanratty. His character was loosely based on Special Agent Joseph Shea, who did help catch Abagnale. Also, the character of Brenda in the movie, who becomes Abagnale's fiancé, didn't really exist either. He admits he did date a girl while on the run but was never engaged.

Journalist Allan Logan wrote "The Greatest Hoax on Earth: Catching Truth, While We Can," a book that contradicted much of Abagnale's story. Logan wrote that Abagnale was either in prison or quietly on the run during the years in question, and that his claims are all either exaggerations or outright lies. Keeping in mind that Frank Abagnale Jr. is an extremely skilled con-man and that he is extremely good at fooling people, you can decide how much of his story is true — or not.