What is Handwriting Forgery?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Handwriting forgery is the duplication of someone's handwriting with the intent to create a document for fraudulent or other questionable uses. The most common form involves forging signatures, but people can also copy handwriting to generate handwritten documents purporting to be written by someone else. Detecting handwriting forgery can require the services of an expert with extensive experience and training in the study of handwriting.

Faking signatures is the most common form of handwriting forgery.
Faking signatures is the most common form of handwriting forgery.

Copying handwriting is very challenging and requires substantial practice. Simply tracing over a signature can leave tell-tale hesitation marks and other signs of a forgery. People attempting to master handwriting forgery obtain as many samples of the victim's handwriting as possible and use these to practice lettering documents like the target. Some natural variation in signatures is present in most people, but developing a forged signature within the tolerances of a person's normal margin of handwriting variation is difficult.

A handwriting forgery can include altering a written document.
A handwriting forgery can include altering a written document.

People can use handwriting forgery in a number of ways once they have managed to reliably copy someone's signature and writing. One option is document alteration, where a document produced by the victim is changed by the forger in some way. Checks, for example, can be altered into larger amounts. People can also create new documents from scratch, or affix a forged signature to contracts and other documentation. Impersonating another person, people can attempt to change wills and other documents, sign away property, and engage in similar activities.

Shredding documents that contain one's signature can help protect against forgery.
Shredding documents that contain one's signature can help protect against forgery.

Signatures on legal documents tend to be carefully inspected to confirm their validity if there is doubt about the origins of the document. A handwriting forgery expert may be called in if the document appears reliable, but there are nagging concerns. The expert can study samples known to be produced in the target's handwriting and compare them against the questionable document. Questionable document examination can involve tools like microscopy to magnify the document and collect as much information as possible.

Copying handwriting is very challenging and requires substantial practice.
Copying handwriting is very challenging and requires substantial practice.

Some very famous forgeries, including forged notes and journals, have been uncovered over the course of history. Sometimes it takes decades to unmask a forgery, while in other cases, the problems with the document are revealed immediately; for example, a person purporting to sell diaries written by a famous figure might make the mistake of using a type of paper not available when that person was alive. The study of handwriting forgery is a topic of interest among law enforcement, historians, and art experts, all of whom may have reason to question documents they come in contact with over the course of their work.

Victims of forgery may experience overdrawn credit and bank accounts.
Victims of forgery may experience overdrawn credit and bank accounts.
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

anon137524

This is an excellent and professional report. I was a little concerned that the proportional spaces between letters were not cited.

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