How to Avoid Getting Burned by Document Forgery

An increasingly common form of fraud involves forging signatures on checks, wills, business forms, property deeds and other important documents. One reason these crimes occur is that most people never give any thought to the opportunities that they create for thieves every time they sign a sensitive document.

Fortunately for the victims of signature forgery, new advances in technology give document examiners new tools in verifying the legitimacy—or lack thereof—of signatures.

But to prevent forgery problems in the first place, banks, local law enforcement agencies, corporate security professionals and attorneys can help by advising their constituents, employers and clients on how to create and use forgery-resistant signatures.

EASY-TO-FORGE SIGNATURES

A signature can be easily forged if the signer...
Oversimplifies his or her signature. This means producing a signature with very few flourishes or changes of direction.
Writes very slowly. Slow meticulous writers can be imitated because forgeries are written slowly and carefully.
Possesses poor writing skills. This is evident when someone has not developed the mechanical abilities related to handwriting.

Adheres closely to conventional rules of penmanship.
Has a signature that varies significantly from one document to the next. A signature that varies considerably is easier to imitate than one that is more consistent.

Key: Handwriting is a highly complex skill...and proficiency takes years of practice. According to Susan A. Greenfield in Journey to the Centers of the Mind, handwriting—especially a signature—is the only universally accepted self-generated identifier of an individual. Moreover, it is an identifier whose acceptance is based on consistency.

PROTECTIVE MEASURES

To protect a signature from being forged, signers should:

  • Develop a complex signature—with numerous changes of handwriting direction that cannot be easily imitated.

  • Practice. People not used to writing much should practice their handwriting and specifically their signature--until they attain a uniqueness that is difficult to duplicate.

  • Write rapidly. Speed reduces legibility.

  • Stylize their signatures. The more individual the writing, the more difficult it is to imitate.

  • Be consistent. Signatures that look different every time they are written are easy to forge, because there is little to compare them with.It is also advisable to have more than one style of signature—one for correspondence and one for signing financial or legal documents.

  • Not try to make their signature legible. Hard-to-decipher signatures are especially difficult to forge.


White-Collar Crime Fighter source: Katherine M. Koppenhaver, Forensic Document Examiners, P. O. Box 324, Joppa, MD 21085

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