Volume 92, Issue 34

Wednesday, November 4, 1998

millions of bad feelings


How to scam some great reading

John Croucher
Allen & Unwin
$14.99/129 pgs.

"To a seasoned criminal, the world is a smorgasbord of suckers just waiting to be selected for a mixed platter."

So begins Great Frauds and Everyday Scams: True Stories of Adventurers and Innocents.

Author John Croucher, associate professor and head of the statistics department at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia presents the reader with some startling statistics. In Australia, fraud costs the average household $2,660 annually. It incurs 69 per cent of the total losses to the community through criminal activity. Scam artists bleed $70 billion a year from the United States economy.

How do they do it? The explanation is presented in the form of individual anecdotes, each about a page in length. Croucher organizes them into six categories from "Imposters, fakes and phoneys" to "Vehicle rackets." Students may note the blatant absence of a particularly interesting category, which was thoroughly covered in Croucher's last book, Exam Scams.

The stories in the book range from the ordinary to the ridiculous. At one end, there are the credit card and sweepstakes scams which every one is familiar with. On the other, there is the story of a man who was born a woman, but managed to hide this fact from his wife for 17 years.

Some pieces are downright scary. For example, an investigation in the United States uncovered 10,000 doctors who were suspected to possess fake degrees. Some of them had not even graduated from high school.

Often, the descriptions of how the fraud artists were caught are more amusing than the frauds themselves. One woman claimed insurance for two VCRs she said had been stolen from her. She professed to have bought them in 1992 and produced a photograph taken that year as evidence. Her deception was exposed by the 1995 phone book in the background.

Almost all the stories are interesting and a wary consumer might even find them useful. On the other hand, anyone who is just looking for a collection of amusing stories is apt to be disappointed, as many of the pieces are quite serious.

Overall, the book is well written and an easy read. One of its particularly nice qualities is the anecdotal format, which makes it a great source for party conversation pieces. It also looks to be an ideal alternative bathroom reader.


To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998