Falsifying or forging documents is involved when individuals are trying to evade detection for wrongdoing by altering a genuine document and passing it as legitimate. Sometimes a signature is forged upon a property contract, on a Last Will and Testament, or on a Child Custody order from the Court. Frequently, sentences, paragraphs, or even a single word will be added or deleted from a document to change the meaning. Whatever the scenario, a document examiner will be able to assist in analyzing the document for anomalies; uncovering evidence to support whether or not a document has been forged or falsified.
What Does It Mean To Forge and Falsifying Document?
Forgery is a legal term and not generally part of a forensic document examiner’s opinion or vocabulary, although it’s used frequently in conversation to describe a scenario where a signature, for example, is prepared by another person other than the author.
A forged document could encompass many scenarios including: legal documents, Wills, property deeds, contracts, loan documents, and any other document that holds value.
A textbook definition of forgery is the making of a false document with the intent that it should be used or acted upon as if it’s genuine. Therefore, the falsification of document includes altering a genuine document in any material part.
Commonly Forged Documents
Signatures are the principal target of any forger and can appear on any number of types of documents: vaccine testing, checks,property deeds, medical forms, insurance applications, beneficiary forms, court documents, company bylaws, voting records, charity records, talent competitions, school reports, etc. Virtually, any and all types of documents are potential targets for falsification.
Examples / Case Study of Forged Documents
A prominent businessman receives a letter from the city hospital letting him know that his request for his medical records has been received but will be delayed. The businessman has no knowledge of this request and asks to see a copy of the letter. He suspect’s his ex-wife may have forged his signature in an effort to obtain his medical records to be used against him in the process of their child custody settlement.
Penalties for Forging and Falsifying Documents
In general, forgery is charged as a third-degree felony. If convicted, a person could be punished by up to 5 years in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.
Detection for forged document
In regards to forged signatures, they usually exhibit at least one common difference to genuine signatures; they appear slowly prepared with a hesitating quality in areas of the signature that should be freely prepared.
With the many methods to forge a signature, it may be possible to see the slowly prepared signature but often times, magnification and light sources are helpful to the forensic document examiner to magnify the signature and observe various parts of the signature that appear with a drawn-like quality.
A document examiner would examine the signature to determine if it appears natural or exhibits a lack of fluency. Various methods of spurious signatures are discussed below:
Simple Spurious Signature
This type of signature occurs when the forger has no idea what the actual signature looks like (there is no model to copy). This signature occurs when checks are stolen but bears no resemblance to the genuine signature. Therefore, these signatures are easily detectable. However, sometimes a forger may try to replicate the signature from memory and the signature may incorporate some elements of the genuine signature and some elements of the forger’s own handwriting. Generally, a simulated signature will display poor line quality.
A freehand simulation is the most common type of signature imitation. These signatures will resemble some elements of the genuine signature but often diverge in key areas: complex letter formations, line quality, and strokes (i.e. connecting strokes between letters or continuity of stroke formations). Degradation of line quality may show up as tremor or angular letter formations as the forger concentrates to get letter formation correct while losing speed or speed is correct but there is a loss of letter formations.
Traced signatures typically contain even pen pressure throughout the signature whereas genuine signatures will display variations in pen pressure. Other characteristics may include pen lifts or pen rests in abnormal positions along the writing line of the signature. If a document examiner suspects a tracing, a microscopic examination may reveal indentations, carbon, or pencil traces underneath the ink.
How to avoid becoming a victim of forgery?
Tip 1: Keep a Copy
Important documents should be maintained with a physical copy of the original and a good quality copy, for emergency purposes.
Tip 2: Make your Signature difficult to copy
It’s difficult to forge a signature that is complex but easier to forge a signature that is simple. Take time to develop a signature that is truly unique with well-written letters and connecting strokes. Stylized signatures are fine as long as they contain speed, fluidity, and some complex letter designs or shapes.
Tip 3: Video evidence
If you suspect that a document you may sign will be challenged, take a video of you signing the document as well as other individuals who may witness or notarize the document. It’s easy to allege someone’s signature is forged but more difficult to refute video proof.
Contact a Document Expert
If you suspect your signature has been forged, contact a document examiner to conduct a signature examination. A document examiner will request a good quality copy of the “forged” document and many comparable signatures prepared around the same time period. These will be used as comparison signatures and should include between 15-20 signatures on similar types of documents prepared around the same time period.