Unraveling the Web of Forgery

    Posted on 3 July, 2023 by PRIYADARSHINI SINGH

    Unraveling the Web of Forgery

     

    Forgery is the act of creating, modifying, or replicating objects or documents to deceive others. It can involve various types of forgeries, such as counterfeit money, forged works of art, fabricated documents, fake diplomas, or false identification. These forgeries often accompany other fraudulent activities like application fraud, insurance fraud, cheque fraud, or financial identity theft. Additionally, forgeries can extend beyond physical objects and include electronic forms, such as creating fake profiles on social media or altering email correspondence.

    When it comes to forged documents and identification, there are several categories:

    1. Blank documents:These are genuine documents like passports or memorandum letters without any personal data or content. The forger inserts false information to facilitate fraudulent activities.
    2. Adjusted documents:These are documents that originally belonged to someone else, but the forger alters the data or picture to match their own identity. These documents are often stolen or bought from the legitimate owner who then reports them as lost or missing. Adjusting documents is the most common form of forgery.
    3. Made documents:These are entirely fabricated documents created from scratch to resemble authentic ones. Made documents can be produced privately, often of poor quality and easily detectable. However, professional criminal organizations may invest significant resources in sophisticated equipment to create high-quality counterfeit documents.
    4. False documents:These documents may include passports, identification cards, club membership cards, driving licenses, etc. Detecting these forgeries can be challenging, as they are often accompanied by multiple supporting documents and appear legitimate.

    Commonly Forged Documents: Uncovering the Targets of Forgery

    Forgery is a pervasive crime that involves the creation or alteration of various documents of legal significance. Some of the commonly forged documents include:

    1. Identification Documents:This category includes driver's licenses, passports, social security cards, and other forms of identification that can be used to establish one's identity.
    2. Cheques:Forgers often target cheques, attempting to counterfeit or alter them to unlawfully obtain funds from someone's bank account.
    3. Wills:Wills are important legal documents that dictate the distribution of a person's assets after their death. Forged wills can be used to manipulate inheritances or deceive beneficiaries.
    4. Drug Prescriptions:Prescriptions can be forged to obtain controlled substances or pharmaceutical drugs illegally.
    5. Deeds:Forged deeds can be used to fraudulently claim ownership or transfer property unlawfully.
    6. Stock Certificates:Stock certificates represent ownership in a company. Forged stock certificates can be used to deceive investors or manipulate stock values.
    7. Contracts:Forged contracts can lead to financial fraud or breach of legal obligations, impacting individuals, businesses, or organizations.
    8. Patents:Intellectual property rights, such as patents, are vulnerable to forgery. Counterfeit patents can be used to falsely claim ownership of an invention or technology.
    9. Works of Art and Certificates of Authentication:The art market is susceptible to forgeries, where fake artworks or counterfeit certificates of authenticity are created to deceive buyers or collectors.

    Creating or Altering False Documents in India

    Forgery is defined under Section 463 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). It involves the creation or alteration of a false document or electronic record, or a part of a document, to cause harm or injury to the public or any individual, support a false claim or title, induce someone to part with property, enter a contract, or commit fraud.

    A false document, as described by Section 463 of the IPC,encompasses several scenarios:

    Making a false document:This refers to dishonestly or fraudulently creating or executing a document, including signing, sealing, or making marks to make it appear as if it was authorized.

    Altering a document:Without legal authority, dishonestly or fraudulently modifying a material part of a document after it has been made, either by oneself or by another person, even if that person is deceased.

    Exploiting vulnerable individuals:Dishonestly or fraudulently causing a person who is mentally unsound or intoxicated to sign, seal, execute, or alter a document, knowing that the individual is unaware of the document's content or the nature of the alteration due to deceitful practices.

    Forgery involves the creation or manipulation of false documents to deceive others and achieve specific objectives. It is a fraudulent act that can lead to legal consequences under the provisions of the IPC.

    The Elements of Forgery: Establishing Guilt Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

    Forgery is a complex crime, and all elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before someone can be convicted:

    1. The individual must have created, altered, used, or possessed a false document. This can involve either fabricating a fake document from scratch or making material alterations to an otherwise genuine document. Material alterations are those that impact legal rights or obligations. For instance, if someone other than the testator signs a will, misrepresenting the testator's identity, it becomes a forgery and has significant legal consequences.
    2. The document in question must hold legal significance. Not all false writings are considered criminal forgery. Documents like contracts, passports, driver’s licenses, deeds, receipts, cheques, wills, certifications, professional licenses, and prescriptions, are examples of documents with legal significance because they affect legal rights or obligations. Forging a signature on a personal letter might not be considered forgery as it lacks legal significance, but doing the same on a job recommendation letter could be considered forgery as it may affect employment, which is legally significant.
    3. The writing on the document must be false, meaning it was altered or created to misrepresent the document's true nature. The forgery must change the fundamental meaning of the document, deceiving others about its content.
    4. Intent to defraud is a crucial element of forgery. The individual must have acted with the specific intention of deceiving or defrauding another person or entity. Merely creating a false document without the intent to deceive would not constitute forgery.

    Understanding Forgery through the Provisions of the Indian Penal Code

    1.  In India, Section 465of the Indian Penal Code prescribes the penalty for forgery. According to this section, the offense is punishable with imprisonment for a term extending up to 2 years, a fine, or both. It is a non-cognizable and bailable offense, meaning that the police cannot arrest the accused without a warrant, and the accused can seek bail. The trial for this offense falls under the jurisdiction of a Magistrate of the first class. However, it is important to note that forgery for cheating is a non-compoundable offense, meaning that the victim cannot withdraw the case even with the consent of the accused.

    1.  Under the Indian Penal Code, there are aggravated forms of forgery that carry specific provisions. These include:
    1. Forgery of a record in a court of justice or a register of birth, marriage, burial, or a certificate of authority to institute or defend a suit, or a power of attorney (Section 466).This pertains to the falsification of documents related to legal proceedings, official registers, or legal authorizations.
    2. Forgery of a valuable security or will (Section 467).This refers to the creation or alteration of documents such as financial instruments, bonds, promissory notes, or wills, with the intent to deceive and gain an unlawful advantage.

    Sections 466 and 467of the Indian Penal Code address aggravated forms of forgery involving documents related to legal records and valuable securities or wills, respectively. These offenses carry specific provisions and penalties under the law.

    1.  Section 468of the Indian Penal Code specifically addresses cases where forgery is committed with the intent to cheat. As mentioned earlier, forgery involves the presence of dishonesty or fraud.

    To establish a case of forgery for cheating, the prosecution must prove the following:

    1. The accused committed the act of forgery.
    2. The intention behind the forgery was to use the forged document for cheating.
    1.  Section 477Aof the Indian Penal Code addresses the offense of falsification of accounts. It states that if a person who is a clerk, officer, or servant willfully and to defraud engages in certain actions, they are deemed to commit the crime of falsification of account.

    These actions include:

    1. Destroying, altering, merging, or falsifying any book, paper, writing, valuable item, or account that belongs to their employer or is in their possession on behalf of their employer.
    2. Making a false entry in, or aiding in the making of a false entry, or intentionally omitting or altering a material-specific entry in any such book, paper, writing, valuable security, or account.

    The offense of falsification of account under Section 477A carries a punishment of imprisonment for up to seven years, a fine, or both.

    This section specifically targets offenses related to bookkeeping and written accounts. It makes the act of falsifying books and accounts punishable, even in the absence of evidence proving the misappropriation of a specific sum on a particular occasion.

    Section 477A of the Indian Penal Code addresses the offense of falsification of accounts, prescribing penalties for individuals who intentionally falsify or manipulate books, papers, or accounts with the intent to defraud their employer.

    Defenses to Forgery: Understanding Possible Legal Protections

    There are several potential defenses to forgery that are employed, including:

    1. Lack of Intent:The accused must have had the specific intent to defraud, deceive, or trick the victim using the forged document. Without this intent, the defendant cannot be convicted of forgery.
    2. Lack of Capacity or Knowledge:To be found guilty of forgery, the defendant must have been aware that the document was forged. If they lacked knowledge or did not possess the mental capacity to recognize the forgery, they are not liable for forgery.
    3. Coercion:If the defendant can demonstrate that they were compelled to commit the forgery due to threats, coercion may serve as a defense.

    The Role of Examination

    The initial encounter with a document requiring examination rarely takes place in a specialized document examination laboratory. Instead, documents such as passports, credit cards, currency, or identity documents are typically first viewed by officers in immigration, customs, retail stores, banks, transport authorities, and similar entities.

    The examination of documents to determine their authenticity is divided into three main levels:

    • Detection
    • Assessment
    • Specialist examination

    Based on the level of examination conducted, a decision is made either to refer the document for further scrutiny or to provide an examination outcome.

    It is crucial to differentiate between counterfeit and forged documents. During the initial stage of examination, the base document is assessed to determine whether it was produced through genuine means and contains the expected security features appropriate for its type (e.g., currency, passport, identity card).

    This first level of examination relies on the assessment of key but generic document security components that are expected to be present and consistent across documents of a common series.

    Once the authenticity of the base document is established, the examination proceeds to identify evidence of forgery or alterations to the original document. This stage involves examining methods employed to manipulate the document, scrutinizing the genuineness of its security features, and conducting a detailed analysis of areas where tampering may have occurred.

    Forgery Detection Methods and Techniques

    Forgery detection refers to the process of identifying and verifying the authenticity or legitimacy of a document, signature, artwork, or other types of data or objects.

    Here are some common methods and techniques used in forgery detection:

    1. Handwriting Analysis:In cases involving forged signatures or handwriting, forensic experts compare the suspected document with known genuine samples from the same individual. They look for differences in stroke patterns, pen pressure, letter formations, and other distinguishing features to determine if the writing is consistent or not.
    2. Document Examination:Forensic experts use specialized equipment such as magnifiers, microscopes, and ultraviolet light to detect alterations, erasures, or hidden elements within the document. They may also analyse the paper, ink, or printing techniques used to identify discrepancies.
    3. Digital Forensics:With the increasing use of digital documents and images, digital forensics techniques come into play. Digital forensic experts examine metadata, file structures, and image compression artifacts to identify possible tampering or manipulation.
    4. UV and Infrared Imaging:UV and infrared imaging can reveal hidden or altered elements in documents, especially security features in official documents like passports and banknotes.

    Signature Challenges: Decoding the Complexity of Signatures in Questioned Documents

    Signatures can pose unique challenges for forensic document examiners. Unlike regular handwriting, signatures often deviate from typical characteristics and may lack consistent individual traits. The presence of a single signature as the sole handwriting on a document can complicate the analysis, as the sample size may be inadequate for definitive conclusions.

    The context in which a signature is produced greatly influences its appearance. Formal signatures, such as those on official documents like wills or property deeds, are typically executed with precision and clarity to ensure the identity of the signer. Informal signatures used in personal correspondence prioritize recognition over exact name spelling. On the other hand, abbreviated or stylistic signatures, commonly seen on cheques, credit card receipts, or prescriptions (e.g., the renowned "physician's signature"), often appear as scribbles with minimal recognizable elements.

    Due to the contextual sensitivity of signatures, specific protocols govern the collection of signature exemplars. Therefore, signatures are collected contextually. For instance, if a forged cheque signature is in question, the subject might be requested to fill out multiple blank cheques of varying amounts and sign them.

    Forged signatures are a common objective in forgery attempts. Depending on the situation, forgers employ different techniques. In cases where the signature needs to be immediately provided, such as with a stolen cheque, forgers may either practice beforehand using a copy of the genuine signature and then attempt to replicate it on the cheque, or they may simply write the cheque without any effort to forge the signature. The success of the forgery often relies on the hope that the merchant will not scrutinize the signature closely.

    Forgery of a document that does not require in-person witnessing of the signature can be achieved through various methods. One such method is tracing, which involves copying the signature onto another surface. Tracing can be done using transmitted light or by creating an indented impression of the signature on a piece of paper and retracing it. However, most tracings, regardless of the technique used, tend to exhibit artificial characteristics that can be detected by a skilled questioned document examiner.

    CONCLUSION

    Forgery is a grave criminal offense that involves falsifying or altering documents, signatures, or other items to deceive or defraud. It carries severe legal consequences, including imprisonment, fines, probation, and reputational damage. The rise of digital technology has given rise to new forms of forgery, necessitating the implementation of measures to detect and prevent digital fraud. Individuals and organizations must understand the gravity of forgery as a criminal offense and take proactive steps to prevent it, protecting themselves and society from the detrimental effects of this unlawful act.

    Importance of Legal Representation in Forgery Cases

    Forgery cases can be intricate, and the potential consequences of a conviction are significant. If you are facing forgery charges, it is advisable to consult with a criminal defense attorney. A skilled lawyer can assess the details of your case, provide a comprehensive understanding of the law, and advise you on possible defenses. They can also represent you in court, ensuring that your rights are protected.

    References

    1. IPC, 1860 Bare Act
    2. PSA Pillai’s, Criminal Law, 13th Edition
    3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780128000373000200
    4. https://crlreview.in/2019/03/03/forgery-indian-penal-code/
    5. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/forgery

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