Hacking Humans Goes to the Movies 2.12.23
Ep 16 | 2.12.23

Appearances count in the scam business.



Tatum O Neal: (As Addie Loggins) That's it right there. That's my $20 bill I got from my Aunt Helen in Wichita. 

Harriet Ketchum: (As Store Customer) Give the child her $20 bill. 

Ralph Coder: (As Store Manager) I'm giving it. 

Dave Bittner: Hello, everyone, and welcome to a special edition of the "Hacking Humans" podcast, an occasional series we call "Hacking Humans Goes to the Movies." I'm Dave Bittner. And joining me is my CyberWire colleague, Rick Howard. Hello, Rick. 

Rick Howard: Hey, Dave. 

Dave Bittner: On this show, Rick and I look at some of our favorite clips from cinema and television, clips which demonstrate some of the scams and schemes that Joe Carrigan and I talk about on "Hacking Humans." We've got some fun clips to share, so stay tuned. We'll be right back after this message from our show sponsor. 

Dave Bittner: And we are back. So, Rick, you had a clip from the film "Paper Moon" way back in Episode 2. Remember that one? 

Rick Howard: Oh, yeah. I remember that one. That was one of the first ones we did. I love that one. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah, absolutely. So I have another one from that film. Now, I guess it's not surprising. It's a film about scammers, really. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: It follows a pair of scammers. So just, for folks who aren't familiar with the movie, this is a film from 1973. It was directed by the great Peter Bogdanovich, and it starred real-life father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O'Neal. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: Tatum won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in this film. 

Rick Howard: Yeah, she's, like, 8 or 9 or something. She's really young. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah, yeah, yeah. She's 9 years old. And this made her the youngest competitive winner in the history of the Academy Awards. I think, what's her name, "The Good Ship Lollipop" gal... 

Rick Howard: Shirley Temple. 

Dave Bittner: ...Shirley Temple. I think she may have gotten an honorary Oscar at a younger age, perhaps, but Tatum was the youngest to actually win one for doing the work. 

Rick Howard: (Laughter) Wow. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. So the film takes place in 1936. And Ryan O'Neal plays an itinerant con man. His name is Moses Pray. And he has agreed to transport young Addie, who's played by Tatum, to her aunt's house after her mother has died. And he picks up Addie at Addie's mother's funeral. The movie kind of indicates that perhaps Moses might be Addie's father... 

Rick Howard: Yeah, yeah. 

Dave Bittner: ...But it's really not clear about that or not. 

Rick Howard: And he doesn't want to take it on. Yeah (laughter). 

Dave Bittner: Yeah, yeah. He doesn't want to be - yeah - weighed down by a child, so - but on the way to the aunt's house, Moses realizes that Addie has a real gift for cons. 

Rick Howard: I'll say. 

Dave Bittner: And he gets her in on the act. So in this scene, the two of them are visiting a store. It's sort of a small town, Main Street, kind of, you know, general store. And while they're in the store, they don't give any indication that they're there together. Moses starts the scene by going to the register to make a purchase. And I will say, before we roll here, they talk about a $20 bill. In 1936, Rick, $20... 

Rick Howard: OK, yeah. 

Dave Bittner: ...It's about $400 today. 

Rick Howard: Woah. 

Dave Bittner: OK? 

Rick Howard: (Laughter) You've got to be kidding me. 

Dave Bittner: Right? So he... 

Rick Howard: He drops a $400 bill - OK? - on the cash register? 

Dave Bittner: (Laughter). 

Rick Howard: Nicely done, sir. OK (laughter). 

Dave Bittner: Yeah, I know. Exactly. So let's roll the clip. This is from "Paper Moon." Here it is. 


Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) Yes, sir? 

Ryan O Neal: (As Moses Pray) I'd like an eye pen, a toothpaste and a pack of cigs. 

Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) Twenty and five. 

Ryan O Neal: (As Moses Pray) Twenty-five. 

Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) Yes, sir. 

Rick Howard: This cashier is just priceless. Her face is perfect for this role. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah, she is - the accent, the whole thing. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: So she puts the $20 in the cash register. 

Rick Howard: The $400 bill, yeah. 

Dave Bittner: Right. Right. 

Dave Bittner: And Moses leaves the store. 

Rick Howard: And he takes a glancing look back at Tatum in the back of the store. 

Dave Bittner: Right. Right. So she - Tatum is starting to make her way up towards the register, and the cashier is taking care of another couple of customers and showing them the way out, taking care of them and completing the sale. Then Tatum steps up to the register. 


Tatum O Neal: (As Addie Loggins) May I have a bottle of purple toilet water please? 

Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) That'll be 25 cents. 

Rick Howard: Twenty-five cents - I love it. 

Dave Bittner: Hands her a $5 bill. Puts it in the register. 


Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) There you go. 

Dave Bittner: Gives her her change. She's looking. 

Rick Howard: Here it comes. 


Tatum O Neal: (As Addie Loggins) Lady, you made a mistake. 

Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) Huh? I give you $4.75. 

Tatum O Neal: (As Addie Loggins) But I gave you a $20 bill. 

Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) Nuh-uh (ph). You gave me a five. 

Tatum O Neal: (As Addie Loggins) No, ma'am, it was a $20 bill. 

Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) You gave me a five, and I gave you $4.75. 

Tatum O Neal: (As Addie Loggins) It was a $20 bill. 

Rick Howard: She's not going to take it from this 9-year-old, OK? 

Dave Bittner: Here comes the waterworks. 


Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) Got no 20s in with no fives. 

Ralph Coder: (As Store Manager) What's all the turmoil? What's going on here? 

Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) This little girl... 

Rick Howard: Store owner. 


Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) ...Gave me a $5 bill, and I gave her change. 

Tatum O Neal: (As Addie Loggins) I gave her a $20 bill. I know I did. It was a birthday present from my Aunt Helen in Wichita. And she wrote, happy birthday Addie, on the end of it. You just go look and see. That's it right there. That's my $20 bill I got my Aunt Helen in Wichita. 

Harriet Ketchum: (As Store Customer) Give the child her $20 bill. 

Ralph Coder: (As Store Owner) I'm giving it. Give the child her $20 bill, Ms. Brownwell. 

Rick Howard: I think it's important to say that there was writing on the bill that said, happy birthday Addie. 

Dave Bittner: Right, right. 


Dejah Moore: (As Salesgirl) Yes, sir. 

Dave Bittner: Little Addie gets a pat on the head from the shop owner. And that is the clip. So what do you make of that, Rick? 

Rick Howard: Well, I want to explain a couple of things first. The dad goes in, pays for it with his $400 bill. 

Dave Bittner: (Laughter). 

Rick Howard: And that's the one with - right? And that's the one with the... 

Dave Bittner: Right. 

Rick Howard: ...Writing on it. 

Dave Bittner: Right. 

Rick Howard: And of course, the clerk doesn't check that. And then she... 

Dave Bittner: No. 

Rick Howard: ...Just puts it - yeah. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. The writing is on the back of the $20 bill. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: So when the father pays for whatever he's paying for with a $20 bill, he just hands her the bill face-up. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: She doesn't think to look at the backside of the bill, and she just puts it in the cash register face-up the way you would and doesn't think twice about it. 

Rick Howard: Right. And so when Addie says, I gave you a $20 bill, and my aunt gave it to me, and she wrote happy birthday on it, and there's the bill in the cash register - of course that's going to work, OK? 

Dave Bittner: Right. 

Rick Howard: That's such an easy and classic scam. You remember the day we did this one, a variation of this one, in a previous episode in the movie called... 

Dave Bittner: I do. 

Rick Howard: Yeah, it was the 2004 movie "Criminal." In that one, John C. Reilly, in a modern setting, instead of writing on the back of the bill, he tears a corner off the bill as his mark. And what I like about these scenes - and I think we're detecting a pattern here, Dave - is that the way these con games work is we have to ratchet up the tension between the mark and the con artist, right? In the John C. Reilly example, he makes a very public scene in a fancy restaurant. And in this scene from "Paper Moon," Tatum O'Neal adds a nice little touch to the narrative by having a cute little girl start crying at a local store. That is well done. 

Dave Bittner: Right, right. And Oscar worthy, right? 

Rick Howard: Oscar worthy. There you go. 

Dave Bittner: Those are some Oscar-worthy tears, Rick. 


Rick Howard: Well, now that you point that out, of course they are. Yeah. 


Dave Bittner: But it also - you're right. It cranks up the pressure because the shop owner comes over 'cause there's a disturbance in his store. It's a little girl... 

Rick Howard: Yep. 

Dave Bittner: ...Crying. And then another customer comes over, and the customer weighs in and says, give that girl her $20. You know, so... 

Rick Howard: Yeah, why are you stealing from the little girl? Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: Right, right. And the girl - they don't know that the girl is with someone else. 

Rick Howard: No. 

Dave Bittner: So to them, the girl's here all by herself. 

Rick Howard: Clean, very clean (laughter). 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. No, it's a good scam played out pretty well in this movie. So that's a fun scene. 

Dave Bittner: All right. That is what I have for us this week, Rick. How about you? What do you got for us? 

Rick Howard: Yeah, so my clip this week is from a 2002 movie called "Catch Me If You Can." Have you seen that one, Dave? 

Dave Bittner: Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: Yep. 

Rick Howard: I was going through the notes on this today. It's directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken, just to name three. And first of all, let me just say... 

Dave Bittner: (Laughter). 

Rick Howard: ...I had completely forgotten how many gigantic stars are in this movie. Half the budget must have been spent just getting these guys on the set, right? 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. That's right. 

Rick Howard: So in this scene, DiCaprio plays a young Frank - how do you say his name? - Ab - Abbing (ph)... 

Dave Bittner: Abagnale. Abagnale. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. 

Rick Howard: Yeah. And he's an infamous real-life con man. And we see him failing over and over again, trying to cash a fraudulent check in four different banks and with four different very, very sad stories. On one of them, he's got a business problem. On the second one, he's trying to get his grandma a birthday present. On the third one, somebody stole his books. He's a student, and he's trying to get them in time for the test. And the last one he's sick. And none of them are working. Nobody believes him because, you know, he kind of looks like a scam artist, right? So - and they all would... 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. 

Rick Howard: ...Give him the stink eye when he's on the - when the camera's looking at him. And then he sees what he's missing - instant respectability in being an airline pilot. And you'll see what I mean when we do this. So roll the clip, Dave. 

Dave Bittner: All right. 


Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Man, I hope you understand. My boss sent me to Brooklyn then Queens... 

Rick Howard: This is No. 1. 


Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Now he wants me in Long Island to take a few clients out for a night on the town. 

Jennifer Manley: (As Ashley) I'm sorry, but we're not allowed to cash checks from other banks. How would we know if they were any good? 

Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) What did you say your name was? 

Jennifer Manley: (As Ashley) Ashley. 

Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Ashley? You know what I found on the sidewalk out there? 

Rick Howard: He's reaching into his case. He's going to give her a chain necklace to kind of con her, sweet talk her. 

Dave Bittner: Oh. 

Rick Howard: Turns around, her boss is right in the chair. 


Anthony Powers: (As NY Savings Bank Manager) Is there something I can help you with, son? 

Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Well, you see, it's my grandmother's birthday next week. 

Rick Howard: Bank No. 2. 


Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) ...Get something extra special. Please, I mean, it's my midterm next week, and my books were stolen (coughing). 

Rick Howard: Bank No. 3 - he's sick. 


Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Just $5. No one would have to know. 

Lauren Cohn: (As Female Teller) I'm sorry, but we are not allowed to take checks from people we don't know. 

Rick Howard: All right. So now he's dejected. He's a complete failure at this, and he's walking down... 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. 

Rick Howard: ...The street, OK? And he's stumbling upon a new scene. 

Dave Bittner: (Laughter) And the light literally changes. 

Rick Howard: It does, yeah. So it's a picture of a pilot for an airline in a - getting out of a taxi with a bunch of stewardesses. And this guy radiates responsibility, maturity, trustworthiness. Everybody that's surrounding them in this little crowd are - is looking up to him like, oh, man, he's a fantastic person. And at this point - OK? - young DiCaprio realizes that that's the guy he needs to emulate when he's trying to make these fraud purchases. 


Unidentified Actor: (As Kid) Can I have your autograph? 

James Morrison: (As Captain Carlson) You betcha (ph). 

Rick Howard: Little kid comes up and asks the pilot for an autograph 'cause, you know... 

Dave Bittner: (Laughter). 

Rick Howard: ...They're very respectable. 


James Morrison: (As Captain Carlson) Here you go. Work hard in school. 

Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Dear Dad, I have decided to become an airline pilot. I have applied to... 

Rick Howard: As you do. 


Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) All the big airlines... 

Dave Bittner: Sure. 


Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) ...Several promising interviews lined up. How's Mom? Have you called her lately? Love, your son, Frank. 

Rick Howard: So he makes an appointment with Pan American. 


Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Hello. 

Rick Howard: One of the airlines of the day. 


Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Frank Black from Monroe High School, and I have an appointment with Mr. Morgan. 

Wendy Worthington: (As Receptionist) You're the young man who's writing the article for the school paper. 

Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Yes, ma'am, that's me. I want to know everything there is to know about being a pilot. 

Rick Howard: So this is recon, Dave. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. 


Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) What does a pilot make in a year? And who tells them where they're going to fly to? 

Steve Eastin: (As Paul Morgan) Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down. Just take them one at a time. 

Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) All right. What does it mean when one pilot says to another pilot, what kind of equipment are you on? 

Steve Eastin: (As Paul Morgan) They just want to know what kind of aircraft you're flying. Is it a DC-8, 707, Constellation? 

Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) And what about those ID badges that I've seen pilots wear? 

Steve Eastin: (As Paul Morgan) Well, every pilot has to have two things with him at all times. One is his airline personnel badge - looks just like this one, here, from Pan Am. The other one is their FAA license, and that looks just like this. 

Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Whoa. Sir, do you think I can make a copy of this to put into my article? 

Steve Eastin: (As Paul Morgan) Oh, Frank, you can have that one. It's three years expired. 

Leonardo Dicaprio: (As Frank Abagnale Jr.) Oh, thanks. And what about your ID badge? You have an extra one I could borrow? 

Steve Eastin: (As Paul Morgan) Oh, no, I can't help you there. Those are special ordered from Polaroid. The only way to get one of those is to become a real-live pilot for Pan American Airways. 

Dave Bittner: (Laughter). 

Rick Howard: Well, what do you think, Dave? 

Dave Bittner: Well, I mean, look, the way that you're dressed absolutely affects how you're perceived. 

Rick Howard: Absolutely. 

Dave Bittner: I often joke that, you know, as a middle-aged white man, if I put on a pair of, you know, tan khakis - khaki pants and a blue button-down shirt and carry a clipboard, I can just about walk into anywhere, right? And nobody's going to stop me because I just, you know, just look like I - if I look like I know what I'm doing and I'm supposed to be there, chances are nobody's going to stop me. And I think that's what they're getting at here, that get that uniform and those ID badges, and who's going to question - especially back then, who's going to question an airline pilot? 

Rick Howard: You know, and what I like about this is the demonstration of DiCaprio or Abagnale. How do you say - I can't pronounce it. 

Dave Bittner: Abagnale. Yeah. 

Rick Howard: Abagnale. Yeah. He's learning his craft, right? He's adapting, trying new things. He's iterating over and over, and not having much success, and then finally having an insight that he might not have had without doing all of those things. So it's like I said during the clip, he's reconning when he goes into the Pan Am and interviews that pilot, right? He's figuring out all the things he has to do to pull this scam. I mean - and what that tells me is, you know, you watch all these movies and TV clips, they make it seem so easy, all right? But there's a bit of craft going on here. And you have to learn all that. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. You know what it reminds me of? This is only a little bit related, but I had a friend who was - who fancied himself an author, an author of fiction. And so he was - decided he was going to write a murder mystery. And so he set up a meeting with his local sheriff, and he went and had lunch with the sheriff. And he happened to know the sheriff. And he said - and he sat down with him. He said, hey, you know, I'm writing this - I want to write this murder mystery. And I want to know, you know, what would be the perfect crime? If somebody wanted to kill their wife, you know, what would be the crime? And the sheriff was like, you're asking me, coming to me and you're asking me - what? He's like, your wife better not show up dead ever, right? Right? Because he's like, do you know how many people, you know, go and talk to their sheriffs under the guise of saying that they're an author or they're working on an article or whatever, you know, trying to - the perfect crime. So I guess law enforcement has your number if you try to do it that way. But this reminded me of that. 

Rick Howard: Talking about not being related to any of this, well, my wife is a total nerd for murder mysteries on YouTube, right? She's listened to all - I mean, she's reached the end of the internet for all of them. I mean (inaudible) right? And so whenever we're watching the TV show or movie and the murderer does something, she goes oh, no. No. No. No. You can't do that because of X, Y, and Z. She knows all the tricks, OK, that's going to get them caught. 

Dave Bittner: Right. But isn't there a thing now - like, there's, like, mystery writers and movie writers are - their job has become much harder because of cellphones and the internet. Like, there's all these movies now where they just pretend like people don't have cellphones because so many things wouldn't work if you were able to just make a call. 

Rick Howard: That's exactly right. I - my daughters and I, who - we all love horror movies, right? And so we want to write the movie where there's an actually scary movie where cellphones work - right? - and... 


Dave Bittner: Right. Right. Right. 

Rick Howard: I will say, though, that I have friends of mine, Dave, who try to do these scams when we go to security conferences. And one of the famous one to do is go to RSA - the RSA Security conference, and just try to get into places that you're not supposed to get in, you know? There's no malicious intent. It's just, you know, having fun with the security crowd and whoever is there, right? I'm not going to mention any names. But, you know, that seems to be a thing that goes on at the RSA security conference. 

Dave Bittner: I may have mentioned this here, but my wife is actually a master at that. 

Rick Howard: Oh, I think you have mentioned that. Yeah. 

Dave Bittner: Yeah. I've been with her when she has talked our way into Disney World, which, you know - now, granted, when she was in college, she worked at Disney World. So not unlike this clip here, you know, she knew the lingo. She knows more than the average person does about how things work there, so it's very easy for her to establish rapport with the people at the gate and say all the right things. But, you know, I just remember one time - and it was a situation where we had forgotten our tickets back at the hotel. And, you know, we could go back and get them, but we would have lost an hour of our time at Disney World. And so, you know, it's one of those things where I just stand back and I will let her - because I hate... 

Rick Howard: Watch her work. 

Dave Bittner: I - well, yeah. I - like, this is not me at all, you know? I'm just like, oh, I guess we got to buy new tickets, you know. But she's like, no. Stand back. No. Stand back, you know. 

Rick Howard: Amature. 

Dave Bittner: Exactly. Exactly. So I just stand back. I get myself out of earshot, you know, because I don't want to give the whole thing away. And then, you know, next thing, she walks over to me, and she's like... 

Rick Howard: I'm with you, too, Dave. 

Dave Bittner: She's like, OK, we're in. 

Rick Howard: My facial expression would give it away, right? So... 

Dave Bittner: Right. Exactly. Right. She just walks over. She's like, we're in. Just follow me. Don't say anything. OK. 

Rick Howard: (Laughter) I'm so glad you used the TV - the language we're in. OK? 


Dave Bittner: Yeah. That's right. That's right. That's right. Yeah. So. 

Rick Howard: That's fabulous. 

Dave Bittner: All right, well, fun clips this week. And we would love to hear from you. If there's something that you would like us to consider for the show, you can email us. It's hackinghumans@thecyberwire.com. We want to thank the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute for their participation. You can learn more at isi.jhu.edu. The "Hacking Humans" podcast is proudly produced in Maryland at the startup studios of DataTribe, where they're co-building the next generation of cybersecurity teams and technologies. Our senior producer is Jennifer Eiben. Our executive editor is Peter Kilpe. I'm Dave Bittner. 

Rick Howard: I'm Rick Howard. 

Dave Bittner: Thanks for listening.