What is Forgery Law?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Forgery law is an area of the law pertaining to falsification and fabrication of written instruments. It is often treated as a felony due to the serious implications of using false documents, although the handling of forgery varies by jurisdiction. Within each region, forgery is usually discussed in detail in the penal code, with clear definitions of the types of forgery and the penalties for different kinds of activity involving falsified written material.

Signing a check with the intent of committing fraud is one form of forgery.
Signing a check with the intent of committing fraud is one form of forgery.

Forgery can vary from faking a signature to generating an entire false document, and can also include modification of a document to change the contents. Forged documentation can be used to claim title to property, and in a variety of other activities, such as crossing international borders. In the art world, forgery of works of art, as well as documentation accompanying art, is a chronic problem, and historians also have to contend with forgery when evaluating historic documents in the course of their work. Forgery law is designed to set out penalties for different types of illegal activity involving falsified documents.

Check washing is a form of check forgery that occurs when all inked information is erased from a check.
Check washing is a form of check forgery that occurs when all inked information is erased from a check.

While many people think of forgery as falsifying handwriting, as in the case of a forged signature or note, it can include printed documents. Forgery is used in a variety of settings and may involve advanced techniques, such as a high degree of skill with a printing press for currency forgers determined to make bank notes as accurate as possible. Under some forgery law, owning material known to be used in forgery can come with legal penalties.

Forgery law covers a wide variety of forging activities and discusses the penalties. Falsifying government documents, particularly bank notes, can come with a very high penalty. Falsely gaining title to property or other assets with the use of forgery can result in being charged with not just forgery, but theft and fraud as well, depending on how the crime is carried out. Likewise, art forging can be penalized as a form of fraud if the forged art or documentation is presented as valid and treated as such during sales, transfers, and other transactions.

Lawyers handling forgery cases must be familiar with the details of forgery law, whether they are defending or prosecuting. Such cases often involve the use of expert witnesses to testify about forgery techniques, confirm that the contended matter was in fact forged, and provide opinions on whether the accused had the skills and facilities to commit the crime. International law enforcement agencies can be involved in the investigation and prosecution of forgery cases where the forged material or proceeds from fraudulent activity cross international borders, and jurisdictional disputes can arise as people debate where to try the accused.

In some cases signatures must be witnessed to prevent forgery.
In some cases signatures must be witnessed to prevent forgery.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon319336

Is there a statue of limitations on signature forgery?

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