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Erin Murphy

Frank Abagnale Jr. is a former scam artist who in his youth cashed millions of dollars-worth of fraudulent checks and posed as an airline pilot, doctor and lawyer.

His criminal days long past, Abagnale spends his days warning seniors across the country about the dangers of scams.

Abagnale --- whose story was portrayed in the 2002 Steven Spielberg film “Catch Me If You Can,” in which Abagnale was played by actor Leonardo DiCaprio --- serves as an ambassador to AARP, traveling the country to speak to seniors.

Abagnate recently was in Iowa, where he told Iowans how to spot and avoid scams. The event was a product of AARP’s Fraud Watch Network.

Seniors lose $36.5 billion each year to financial abuse, according to a 2015 study by True Link Financial.

“I worked all my life on the premise that education is the most powerful tool to fighting crime,” said Abagnale, who for more than 40 years has served as a security consultant to the FBI.

Abagnale said through AARP he has traveled to roughly 10 cities over each of the past three years to speak to seniors about scams. He said he appreciates that the events are free, and is often surprised at how many younger people attend the events in order to learn something that could help protect their older relatives.

Abagnale said the keys to identifying a scam are to stop and verify. He said most scams are based on urgency --- the scammer tells the potential victim that he or she must act quickly in order to resolve the invented situation.

For example, Abagnale said a common scam involves a scammer calling a senior to say his or her grandchild has been arrested and bail money is needed immediately to secure the grandchild’s release.

“Stop, hang up the phone, get the phone book, and call the Des Moines police department,” Abagnale said. “Stop and verify. Those two words could save a lot of people a lot of money.”

Abagnale said when he travels to these events he is always surprised and dismayed at the tales of scam victims losing their homes or their retirement funds.

Parties tout star power

Iowa Democrats and Republicans have are hosting some high-profile names for their annual state party fall fundraisers.

Actor Alec Baldwin will deliver the keynote address at the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual Fall Gala on Nov. 27 in Des Moines. A longtime television and film actor, Baldwin most recently has become well-known for his portrayal of President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.”

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer will speak at the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual Reagan Dinner on Nov. 8 in Des Moines. A former communications director for the national Republican Party, Spicer served as President Trump’s first press secretary before resigning in July.

Trump out-polls Blum, Young

Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning national polling firm, recently conducted polls in nine competitive U.S. House districts across the country, including two in Iowa.

Among the more noteworthy revelations was that in Iowa’s 1st and 3rd Districts, Trump --- despite his poor job performance ratings --- fared better than the Republican congressmen in those districts.

In eastern Iowa’s 1st District, 45 percent of voters said they approve of Trump’s job performance, while 50 percent said they disapprove. That’s better than 1st District Rep. Rod Blum, who had an approval/disapproval rating of 33/51, according to the poll.

The results were similar in central Iowa’s 3rd District, where Trump had a 43/53 job approval rating and Congressman David Young a 37/47 rating.

Public Policy Polling conducted automated phone surveys of 1,093 1st District voters from Oct. 6 to Oct. 8. The margin of error is 3 percent. The polling firm did the same with 693 3rd District voters over the same period, and the margin of error is 3.7 percent.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is