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How to protect yourself from scams

Review by Matthew Partridge

Almost all of us have been approached by a scammer at some point in our lives – if you’re an active investor, you probably fend off regular calls from such people. But as financial writer Rodney Hobson notes in The Book of Scams, the opportunities for fraud have been magnified by recent changes to pension rules, which have given retirees far more control over their money. That makes Hobson’s book on the tricks fraudsters use particularly timely.

The book opens by outlining some traditional scams, such as forged wills and the “French Connection” (or “Spanish Prisoner” – you’ll have seen variations on this in your inbox in the form of emails from close relatives of deposed dictators who have inexplicably chosen you to help them move their ill-gotten gains out of a Swiss bank account). The book moves onto investment scams, concluding with a look at online frauds. Hobson explains how each scam works, with examples and tips on what to look out for, and often an outline of how they’ve evolved over time. Some are quite clever (if thoroughly low), such as the con men who defraud people and then steal a second bite of the apple by impersonating police. You might think that it couldn’t happen to you, but given that the average scam victim loses £20,000 (according to the Financial Conduct Authority) it makes sense to be aware of potential threats.

Covering 22 topics in just under 200 pages means some of the material is a little superficial, but there’s lots of useful detail, such as the section on auction-related scams, and it’s a useful reminder that is something looks too good to be true, it almost always is. If you liked The Sting or Matchstick Men, you’ll fine it a fascinating read, ideal for a train journey or short flight.

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