Forgery is among the fastest growing white collar
crimes today. Within the past two weeks, the Times Union reported
several incidents involving forgery. An Albany woman, charged
with possession of a forged instrument, allegedly had a license
belonging to another person with an altered date of birth. In
a separate incident, police investigated a complaint by a local
business where someone had apparently stolen and cashed two of
their business checks. In another article, a former copper trader
in Japan pleaded guilty to forging his boss's signatures and swindling
$770 million out of a subsidiary to cover up his estimated $2.6
billion in trading losses.
What is Forgery?
In simple terms, forgery is the alteration of an
authentic document, such as changing the dollar amount on a check.
Counterfeiting, another crime often connected with forgery, involves
producing imitations of official documents. Government documents
and checks are particularly vulnerable to these frauds due to
their financial credibility, acceptability and ease of recognition.
Driver's licenses, vehicle registrations, birth certificates,
marriage licenses, death certificates, and professional licenses
are among the commonly targeted government documents.
There are three basic types of forgery: altered documents,
signature forgery, and false documents. With the help of technology,
all three types are fairly common now.
- Altered Documents.
Documents can be altered by simply changing information within
the document to benefit the forger. By applying household bleach,
paint thinner or other special ink eradicators to a check, for
example, the payee or amount can be changed fairly easily. These
modifications are often undetectable. Documents can also be altered
using cut and paste methods. Another way to alter documents is
through technology. A document can be scanned into a computer
and the image changed right on the desktop. Thanks to color inkjet
printers, a forger can create a "new" document which
looks as good or better than the original.
Here's a clever way a student gained admission to
New York University (NYU) by using a forged college transcript.
He simply obtained the transcript of a student attending another
college, erased the student's name, grades, and classes and had
a local print shop produce blank forms for him. He filled in
fake classes and grades and sent it to NYU along with his admissions
- Signature forgery.
Signature forgery is probably the easiest method of forgery.
All a forger needs to do is obtain a document for another person
and sign that person's name to it. Even if the forgery is detected,
it may be impossible to track down the forger.
- False documents.
False documents are easily created given the availability of inexpensive
computers, scanners, and printers. For example, you can easily
scan a business card and create a check, regardless of what the
check for that business really looks like. A great deal of money
can be stolen by printing and cashing these checks. Again, by
the time the forgery is detected, the forger has moved on to his
Reducing the Risk
As a general rule, don't trust the common belief
that it can't happen to you. By following these precautions,
you can reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a forgery scam.
- Learn more about forgery and counterfeiting by
reading articles on these topics or by surfing the Internet.
The more you know, the better you can protect yourself.
- Examine documents for authenticity. This is
especially important if you handle documents as part of your job.
Remember, government-issued documents make good targets.
- Look for official, raised seals. This may indicate
the document is an original.
- Look for smudges, erasures, white out and other
conditions which may suggest a document has been changed.
- Look for consistency with other documents from
the same source.
- Look for logical relationships within the document.
- Look for perforations on checks, with the main
exception being government checks.
- Reconcile your checkbook or line of credit regularly.
Notify your bank immediately of any discrepancies.
- When you receive check orders, take time to quickly
scan the checks and deposit slips to ensure your account information
and other data is correct.
- Type checks, instead of writing them, to make
altering more difficult.
- When writing the check amount, use the entire
line. Do not leave any space on the left-hand side and
draw a line to the right-hand side to fill the rest of the line.
Also, avoid using abbreviations for the payee.
- Don't put bill payments in your mailbox and leave.
You should either watch your mailbox until your mail has been
picked up or drop the payments off at the post office.
- Order checks with safety features to make forgery
more difficult. A few of these features include:
- Security Tint or Stain.
When copied or altered, the check displays the word "void"
on the face of the document.
- Safety Block. This
is a printed design usually of a repeating nature. A break in
design may indicate an alteration.
- Warning Band. This
printed band calls attention to security features, such as the
background color of the check. All the security in the world
doesn't help much, unless people know what features you're using.
- Watermarks. Watermarks
are translucent and incorporated into the check. They are visible
on both sides of the check and available only from papermills.
They cannot be removed, duplicated, or changed.
- Logoline. This feature
looks like a solid line on the document, for example, a signature
line on a check, but is actually a series of letters or words
which will not duplicate when copied.
As one of the fastest-growing white collar crimes,
forgery deserves more attention from the general public than it
gets. The best form of protection is to stay informed and keep