It was Oscar Wilde that said “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery . . .”, but when an artist attempts to pass on that imitation as the real thing, it's called forgery. We tend to think of forgery in connection with the art world. However, the crime of forgery generally refers to the making of a fake document, the modification of an existing document, or the unauthorized signing of a signature without authorization.
Read ahead to learn more about various types of forgery as well as the elements needed to commit the crime.
Elements of Forgery
Forgery involves a false document, signature, or other imitation of an object of value used with the intent to deceive another. Those who commit forgery are often charged with the crime of fraud. Documents that can be the object of forgery include contracts, identification cards, and legal certificates. Most states require that forgery be done with the intent to commit fraud or larceny.
The most common form of forgery is signing someone else's name to a check. Objects, data and documents can also be forged. Legal contracts, historical papers, art objects, diplomas, licenses, certificates and identification cards can be forged. Currency and consumer goods can also be forged, but this crime is usually referred to as counterfeiting
Forgery Requires Deception
In most jurisdictions, the crime of forgery is not charged unless the forgery is done with the intent to deceive or with the intent to commit an attempted fraud or larceny. For instance, works of arts can be copied or replicated without any crime being committed unless someone attempted to sell or represent the copies as originals. In these cases, the copies would become illegal forgeries.
Forgery can also involve the creation of fake or fraudulent documents. For example, it can involve photocopying a person's signature and then artificially placing it on a document without their knowledge or consent.
One famous criminal forger was Frank Abagnale, who forged millions of dollars worth of personal and payroll checks and was later the subject of Ron Howard's film "Catch Me If You Can."
On a grand scale, forgery occurs in the fields of art and literature. German forger Wolfgang Beltracchi forged artworks claiming they were painted by Picasso and other European masters. Perhaps the world's most famous case of literary forgery took place with the 1983 "discovery" of the alleged "Hitler Diaries." The diaries supposedly contained passages written by Adolf Hitler between 1932 and 1945. The diaries were actually written by a forger named Konrad Kujau in the early 1980's.
Forgery as Identity Theft
Identity theft is a crime wherein the perpetrator wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.
Historically, states have treated identity theft as false impersonation, forgery or as theft by deception. Some states still use these laws to punish identity theft crimes, while most states have now enacted specific identity theft laws and cyber-crime laws.
Identity theft laws in most states make it a crime to misuse another person's identifying information -- whether personal or financial. Such data (including social security numbers, credit history, and PIN numbers) is often acquired through:
- the offender's unlawful access to information from government and financial entities, or
- lost or stolen mail, wallets and purses, identification, and credit or debit cards.
In one notorious case of identity theft, the criminal, a convicted felon, incurred more than $100,000 of credit card debt, obtained a federal home loan, and bought homes, motorcycles, and handguns in the victim's name. The perpetrator even called his victim to taunt him. The criminal served a brief custodial sentence for making a false statement to procure a firearm, but made no restitution to his victim for any of the harm he had caused.
This case, and others like it, prompted Congress in 1998 to create a new federal offense of identity theft.
Facing Forgery Charges? You'll Probably Need a Lawyer
As discussed above, a charge of forgery often boils down to intent. If you're facing charges for forgery, your defense may end up focusing on intent as it can be difficult to prove and, remember, it's the prosecutor's burden to prove your intent beyond a reasonable doubt. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you to establish supporting facts and to build your case.