In 1963, teenager Frank Abagnale lives in New Rochelle, New York with his father Frank Abagnale, Sr., and French mother, Paula. When Frank Sr. encounters tax problems with the IRS, his family is forced to move from their large home to a small apartment. Paula carries on an affair with Jack Barnes, her husband’s friend. Meanwhile, Frank has to transfer to public school and gets into trouble when he begins posing as a substitute French teacher on his first day there. Frank runs away when his parents divorce. Needing money, he turns to confidence scams to survive, and his cons grow bolder. He impersonates an airline pilot and forges Pan Am payroll checks. Soon, his forgeries are worth millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, FBI agent Carl Hanratty begins tracking Frank. Carl finds Frank at a hotel, but Frank cons Carl into believing he is a Secret Service agent who is also after the fraudster, and escapes before Carl realizes that he was fooled.
Meanwhile, Frank’s cons now include impersonating a doctor and a lawyer. As Dr. Frank Conners, he falls in love with Brenda, a naive young hospital worker. He asks Brenda’s attorney father for permission to marry her, and also wants his help with arranging to take the Louisiana State Bar exam, which Frank passes. Carl tracks Frank to his and Brenda’s engagement party, but Frank escapes through a bedroom window minutes before Carl reaches him. Before leaving, Frank asks Brenda to meet him at the Miami airport two days later. At the airport, Frank sees Brenda, but also spots plainclothes agents everywhere; realizing Brenda betrayed him, he escapes on a flight to Europe.
Carl tracks down Frank in Montrichard, France, the small town from which Frank’s mother came. Carl arrests Frank and returns him to the U.S. Prior to landing, Carl informs Frank that Frank’s father has died. Grief-stricken, Frank escapes from the plane and goes to where his mother and stepfather live. As the police arrive, Frank surrenders. He is sentenced to 12 years in a maximum security prison. Carl occasionally visits him. During one visit, Carl shows Frank a check from a case he is working on, and Frank immediately identifies that the bank teller was involved. Carl then convinces the FBI to allow Frank to serve the remainder of his sentence working for the FBI bank fraud unit. But Frank finds the work tedious and restrictive and misses his former life. One weekend, he attempts to fly as an airline pilot again. He is intercepted by Carl, who wants Frank to return to the FBI on Monday and assures Frank that no one is chasing him. On the following Monday, Carl grows nervous when Frank has not yet arrived at the office. However, Frank eventually shows up, and they discuss their next case.
The ending credits reveal that Frank is real and has been married for 26 years, has three sons, lives in the Midwest and has maintained a friendship with Carl. He now earns millions of dollars as a bank security expert, has designed secure bank checks and has helped apprehend numerous counterfeiters.