Herb Greenberg's Weekend Investor column focuses on the need for investors to be more skeptical or, as he calls it, detective-like. By looking deeper into the numbers than just the earnings per share or revenue growth, you can sometimes uncover signs of trouble before most Wall Street analysts do. And with increased disclosures as a result of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, there may be more red flags to be found than ever.
Unfortunately, I suspect very few investors have the skills to read a 10-K or 10-Q critically. Most of us just take everything at face value. But, learning a little bit of "forensic accounting" is a lot of fun (you really do feel like a detective) and may help you notice some danger signs. Here are my favorite books for digging deeper into financial statements and seeking out signs of fraud or misrepresentation:
Financial Shenanigans: How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks & Fraud in Financial Reports by Howard Schilit. Probably the best book on accounting fraud.
Quality of Earnings by Thorton O'Glove. I found this one dry and boring, but it's written by one of the first experts in the field, and contains some great examples.
The Art of Short Selling by Kathryn F. Staley. While not exclusively about accounting fraud, this contains some interesting stories of companies that were engaging in creative accounting. And, if you become an expert on creative accounting, short-selling may be a way to a profit from it.