Forensic Document Examination is a common resource for resolving criminal and civil cases involving allegations of forgery. “Forgery” is a legal term used to broadly define the intentional falsification of a document. It is normally the result of the intent of someone to deceive another person or entity for financial gain. Two of the most common types of forgery are: Signature forgery: Document examiners are trained as handwriting experts. They will analyze a signature in question by comparing it to several samples of the subject’s true signature to identify similarities and differences. Common examinations include signatures on wills, contracts, loan agreements, etc. Document alterations: Documents such as contracts, journals, inventory lists, time sheets, medical records may have writing or numerals added, deleted or altered in some manner. A document examiner will use various laboratory instruments to resolve such issues. For example, one instrument is designed to examine inks in the infrared light spectrum. It is used to examine documents that allegedly have an alteration such as the numeral “1” changed to a “4”. The addition of the second stroke, made with a different pen, may be determined with the lab instrument.
Initially, writers learn to write by emulating a handwriting system taught in school. As students mature, they quickly stray from the copybook forms to making letters with individualizing features. These characteristics may include variations in the form of the writing slant, the spacing between letters, the design and length of approach and termination strokes, the positioning of ‘i-dots’ and ‘t-crossings’, etc. There is natural variation in the signatures and writing of all people which is why document examiners will ask for several known writing samples of a suspected writer. By having several samples, the signature expert will be able to establish a master pattern or consistency of the writer. The questioned signature will then either conform to the known writing specimens or not. Handwriting examination is a complex and detailed field. For example, some signatures may pictorially appear to the be the product of the same person. However, a comparison by a document examiner may prove a signature in question was not genuine but rather the result of a simulation, tracing, or a ‘cut and paste’ fabrication.
Before a Forensic Document Examiner develops an appropriate opinion for his/her client following a signature or handwriting examination, consideration is given to whether the questioned and known specimens relied upon were original or photocopies, the number of known handwriting specimens provided, how closely dated the known specimens were dated to the questioned writing, etc. Document examiners commonly use one of nine opinions related to signature or handwriting comparisons; Identification, Highly Probable (did write), Probable (did write), Indications (did write), Inconclusive, Indications (did not write), Probable (did not write), Highly Probable (did not write), and Elimination.
Forensic document examiners are commonly asked to examine abbreviated signatures in question. It is common for people that sign their name frequently to simplify their signature. However, reducing the complexity of a signature increases the ability for someone to simulate it. A complex, fluently written signature minimizes the opportunity for a successful ‘forgery’ of the name.
In the recent past, mortgage fraud has been a topic in the media and remains a concern of many home owners. Although there were many instances of mortgage fraud in the past, every case submitted to a forensic document examiner must obviously stand on its own merits and not tainted simply because of past practices. Commonly, a request will be made specifically for an examination of the mortgage ‘Note’. The document examiner will focus toward specific areas of concern of the client as well as conduct other examinations to help establish the consistency, or inconsistency, in the preparation of the contract. The process may include an analysis of the signature(s), writing inks, papers, printing processes, indentations, etc. The evidence recovered may then be evaluated by the client, and their counsel, to determine if the Note was changed in some manner from the initial signing.
Although commonly overlooked, indented writing may be of significant value in resolving questioned document issues. As the term implies, indented writing is the non-visible indentations or images applied to a sheet of paper positioned below the page actually written upon. The indentations may be made visible by rubbing with a crayon or the side of a pencil, however, it is a destructive process not used by forensic document examiners. A specialized laboratory instrument is used by document examiners to recover indented writing. The process is non-destructive, leaving no marks on the document. An image is produced providing tangible evidence of the continuity, or non-continuity, of entries made in a journal, medical record, accounting book, etc. A qualified document examiner will have the instrumentation and knowledge of techniques appropriate to a variety of document issues.
Requests are commonly received for a forensic document examiner to compare a simulated or traced signature with writing samples of the purported ‘forger’. The expectation is to confirm a suspected writer was responsible for the simulation or traced signature. The reality is a well simulated signature, or tracing, rarely contains identifying features of the writer. In the writer’s attempt to successfully replicate another persons’ signature, they attempt to discard their own handwriting profile. However, rushed or poorly executed simulations may yield some evidence of the writer if they inadvertently include their own natural writing features. Tracings rarely would offer that opportunity. Extended writing, such as anonymous notes, offers a greater likelihood of the writer including their own writing traits.
During the collection process of signature specimens to submit with the questioned signature(s), maximize the comparison process by the following: Collect ‘like’ documents. For example, if a signature was written on a legal document it is preferable to submit signature samples from other legal documents rather than from greeting cards, credit card receipts, etc. Similarly, if a questioned signature is on a check, the best comparison samples would be other checks known to be signed by the account holder. Known signature exemplars should be provided to the forensic document examiner dated as close as possible to the document in question. Comparing a signature on a Will dated in 1995 with a document signed several years before or after, would serve little purpose. An ample quantity, and quality images, of the known signatures submitted provide a better foundation for the examiner to establish the writer’s ‘range of variation’, resulting in a credible, objective opinion.
Document examiners are commonly asked if photocopies may be used for a handwriting comparison. They may. However, the preferable form documents are submitted is in the following order: originals, photographs, photocopies and, if necessary, microfilm and faxed copies. Fortunately, modern microfilm machines provide much better quality reproductions. Original documents may provide evidence not reproduced on machine copies. For example, a common type of fabricated document involves a “cut and paste” process; cutting a genuine signature from one document and pasting it onto the fabricated document. The resulting photocopy will have a genuine signature, implying the person signed the document at issue. The ‘original’ can not be provided for examination. It’s absence will be explained as being “lost” or “misplaced”. Another reason the original is of value is it may be examined for indentations. Also, pen pressure may be evaluated and optic brighteners of individual pages in the document may be compared. Take the extra effort to provide your document examiner with the originals, if they are available. It will make their task easier and produce better results.
July 14, 2013 in Forgeries by James A. Green | Comments Off on Signature Comparisons: just one aspect of Document Examinations
Commonly, when a document is called into question the signature becomes the focus of attention. Forensic document examiners conduct signature comparisons, but also look for other evidence on the document. To assist with this process, specialized laboratory instruments are used. For example, there may be indentations of value on a contract, will or medical record. As a person writes, the indentations of the writing are commonly found on the following page or pages. A lab instrument is used to recover indentations and make them visible. It is useful in not only learning what the indented text was but may also help in establishing if a document is consistent with the dating sequence. Another instrument used in the profession is a Video Spectral Comparator (VSC). It serves to show differences in ink formula’s. Although two inks may react similarly with the VSC, it cannot conclusively determine they are the same ink. Typical cases involve altered medical records, altered contracts, wills, checks, etc. The instrument is also effective in resolving obliterated writing cases and to authenticate security documents. Rely on a qualified document examiner to use a multi-faceted approach in the examination of your questioned document.