Almost all modern business and commerce transactions depend on documents, both paper and electronic, in order to facilitate and record the particulars of the agreement taking place. Forgery is the crime of creating a false document, altering a document, or signing someone else's signature to a document with the intent to steal or cheat a person, business, or government agency out of money, goods, or services.

While fraud is a closely related deception made for personal gain, forgery specifically uses documents with the intent to defraud and gain illegal benefits in a manner which abuses and challenges the social order. Forgery also applies to electronic documents – including emails and click-through service agreements. Using documents to misrepresent or steal an identity to obtain credit, money, or other personal gains can also be classified as forgery.

Types of Forgery

Forgeries typically occur in connection with monetary payments. This includes forging names on checks and altering receipts and invoices. Titles, deeds, and public documents such as birth certificates and marriage certificates can be illegally forged. In order to be deemed a forgery, the false or altered document must have legal significance and appear to represent something it is not.

Writing a letter of reference for yourself and saying it is from a former employer is forgery; your former employer could be legally liable for recommending someone for a position they are not qualified for. On the other hand, if you paint a picture by yourself and sign Rembrandt's name to it, you may be found guilty of false pretenses, but not forgery, since your painting bears no legal significance. Forgery differs from counterfeiting in that a counterfeit is a forging of coin or paper money.

False making refers to a type of forgery where paper and ink have been used to create a document from scratch, such as with a fake passport or Social Security card. Material alteration is the most common instance of forgery. This occurs when an individual takes an otherwise valid document and alters it in some way by making insertions or alterations. This includes the use of false signatures, improperly filling in blanks in a form, or appending another person's signature to a document without obtaining permission to do so. While it is lawful to sign another person's name when the party doing so is an attorney or other representative, it is not legal to do so when the intent is to commit fraud. The forging of deeds, titles, etc. often fall into the category of material alteration.

Forgery Convictions

To be convicted under state or federal law, a forgery must have the ability and intent to defraud. This means that a document must look genuine and be capable of causing legal loss to an individual. Forgery is a serious offense and considered a felony by the federal government and by all 50 states. It is typically regulated by state laws, and punishments are based on the severity of the crime. Sending forged documents through the post office may constitute mail fraud and be subject the guilty party to being tried and punished under federal jurisprudence.

By Doug Vanisky           

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