All of us have wondered at one time or another why it is that we are asked to sign a document rather than simply applying an inked fingerprint to the paper as a method of identification. Wouldn’t it be just as simple to place a thumbprint on a check instead of a maker’s signature? Wouldn’t that foil forgeries? The arguments that a signature is easier to read is invalid, as many signatures have evolved until they are nothing more than a symbolic representation of what was at one time handwriting and are now unreadable.

The answer to this riddle lies in the word “intent.” By placing a signature on a document we are implying intent on our part to agree with circumstances provided by that check, codicil, agreement, contract, etc. One could easily place the fingerprint of someone recently deceased or unconscious upon a document if that was all that was required for authentication. This does not presuppose however, that the placement of an inked thumbprint next to a maker’s signature on a check, about to be negotiated at a check cashing counter in a grocery store, would not be a help. The fingerprint’s universal connotation would certainly, at the very least, be a deterrent to the individual intent upon passing a forged instrument.

 

The development, and examination, of a personal signature follows almost all of the concepts relating to handwriting. A signature may be nothing more than an extension of one’s normal cursive handwriting, or it may have been personalized to such an extent that it now has few, if any, recognizable letter formations.

Signatures examined by the forensic document examiner for authenticity will eventually be categorized as genuine, or not genuine, if the examination leads to a definitive opinion. “Forgery” in a strict sense is a legal term and its use as a conclusion should probably be avoided by the questioned document examiner. Often a signature in of itself may be valid, but the manner in which it has been acquired or affixed to the document, or the sequence of events involved in its use are fraudulent. The product of a rubber stamp or autopen is certainly not a genuine signature but is most frequently used in a previously authorized capacity. While these signatures are not genuine, they are undeniably not forgeries in the legal sense. Terms such as “Forgery” and “Fraud” are perhaps best used by the legal community. Having said that, the reader may find that these terms are occasionally used in a descriptive manner throughout this text.

By definition, a genuine signature is the personal mark of an individual, written by that specific individual. It normally serves to indicate his or her acceptance of some set of circumstances, or to be the symbol associated with such an agreement. [1]

What is Forgery?

According to Section 464 of IPC 1860, Forgery is defined as, “Whoever makes any false documents or part of a document with intent to cause damage or injury, to the public or to any person, or to support any claim or title, or to cause any person to part with property, or to enter into any express or implied contract, or with intent to commit fraud or that fraud may be committed, commits forgery.”

 

Types of Forgery:

In most of the cases signatures are forged by using any one of the following methods-

 

  1. Normal Hand Forgery: During the creation of this type of signature, the writer simply writes someone else’s name. There is no attempt made to duplicate or make the forgery look like a genuine signature. Any resemblance to the genuine signature is coincidental. Usually, the perpetrator of this signature does not have a model signature at hand and/or the skill level or forethought to attempt emulation. If he does not attempt to impart disguise to the writing, the resultant product will display characteristics of the forger’s own handwriting. Armed with adequate standards of both the individual whose name is being used and exemplars of the suspect, the document examination may be definitive to the point that not only is the signature opined not genuine, but the forger is also identified.

 

  1. Simulated or Free Hand Forgery: This forgery is constructed by using a genuine signature as a model. The forger generates an artistic reproduction of this model. Depending on his skill and amount of practice, the simulation may be quite good and bear remarkable pictorial similarity to the genuine signature. Many simulations created with a model at hand will contain at least some of the general indicators of forgery, such as tremor, hesitation, pen lifts, blunt starts and stops, patching, and static pressure. They will have a slow “drawn” appearance. The practiced simulation is most often a higher quality creation in that the model signature has been memorized and some of the movements used to produce it have become semi-automatic. Both practiced and non-practiced simulations will still have notable shortcomings. The forger naturally puts his greatest effort into those parts of the name that he expects to fall under the greatest scrutiny. While the simulated signature will readily fail the test for genuineness when examined by a competent forensic document examiner, the forger is rarely, if ever, associated with the forgery. During the creation of a simulated forgery, the author attempts to duplicate the writing style of another individual. By doing this, the forger leaves behind little, if any, of his own distinctive writing style. By doing an emulation of someone else’s signature, he also produces one of the best of all possible disguises of his own handwriting. Infrequently, some of the forger’s own individual characteristics may appear in the disputed writing. The limited quantity of these characteristics which appear on those occasions is such that identification of the author rarely occurs.

 

  1. Tracing: Traced forgeries are generally created by one of three methods: “transmitted light,” “carbon intermediate,” or “pressure indented image.” While tracings may not normally present much of a challenge to the document examiner trying to determine genuineness, the ability to identify the perpetrator is totally precluded. Tracing another’s signature, or for that matter another’s handwriting, is the paramount form of disguise. Total agreement between the model and the questioned signature dictate that the questioned signature was a product of tracing. No two signatures or handwritings, even from the same person, are ever totally duplicated. Just as certainly, total agreement between two, three or more questioned signatures is adequate demonstrative proof of tracing.

 

  1. Transferred Forgery: On rare occasions, an innovative form of spurious signature may be encountered that can best be equated with a tracing, but in actuality differs from the conventional concepts of tracing because of its method of production.

 

Most traditional ballpoint pen inks employ an ethylene glycol medium as the base ingredient to carry dyes, extenders, plasticizers, and other ink components. A signature made by employing a pen using this ink may be “transferred” to another document by using ordinary waxed paper or freezer paper. By placing this form of medium over a genuine signature and rubbing the top of the paper vigorously, the wax that is in conjunction with the signature will melt and subsequently absorb some of the ethylene glycol-based ink line. This paper now containing a mirror image of the genuine signature is placed over another document that is to receive the forgery. The waxed paper is again rubbed briskly, melting the wax and ink composite. This process will result in a forgery that does not conform to, nor contain, the normal observable conditions that are associated with simulated or traced signatures. This is because, in essence, this signature was created by the signature holder’s hand rather than the forger’s. Indications of this process will be in the form of wax left behind that covers and surrounds the signature line. The signature itself will have a discernibly faded appearance and the edge of the ink line when viewed under low magnification will have a mottled look rather than sharp appearance. [2]

 

Indicators of Forgery:

General indications of non-genuineness may include the following:

  1. Blunt starts and stops
  2. Pen lifts and hesitation
  3. Tremor
  4. Speed and pressure
  5. Patching/ Retouching
  6. Pen pauses
  7. Drawn appearance, etc. [1]

 

References:

  1. “Signatures & Forgery” [Online] (https://www.questioneddocuments.com/questioned-document-overviews/signatures-forgery/) Accessed on 27/08/2019.
  2. Briggs, A. (2015), “The Smell of Forgery: Challenging Documents in Evidence” [Online] (http://disputeresolutionblog.practicallaw.com/the-smell-of-forgery-challenging-documents-in-evidence/) Accessed on 27/08/2019.