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What is Forgery?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Forgery is a crime in which someone falsifies something with the intent to deceive. There are a number of different kinds of forgery, ranging from counterfeiting to art forgery, but they are all treated as crimes under the law. In some instances, forgery is severely punished, especially in the case of counterfeiting.

This crime has a very long history, although it really began to flourish in the 20th century, when numerous opportunities for forging arose. However, both Ancient Greeks and Romans would sign their art with names other than their own in the hopes of capitalizing on a big name, and counterfeiters have been faking coins and paper money ever since currency was introduced. Some incidences of ancient forgery were so well done that they are displayed in museums today, and in a few instances, works of art haven't been revealed as forgeries for decades or even centuries after their acquisition by museums and galleries, much to the embarrassment of the staff.

In art forgery, someone makes a piece of art which is meant to mimic the style of a famous artist, and then signs the piece with the name of the artist. Dead artists are common victims of forgery, since they are not alive to testify about the provenance of a work. Some art forgers are extremely clever, utilizing a variety of techniques to make it difficult to identify a fake. Art historians, in turn, use a number of techniques to examine art in the hopes of weeding forgeries from real works of art.

Document forging is also a lucrative endeavor in many parts of the world. Forgers can generate identifications, certificates of title to property, and other documents for a variety of uses. In some instances, forged documents are used for benign purposes, like entering an establishment with age restrictions; in other cases, the intent may be more sinister, like identity theft. Official documents tend to have a number of anti-forging precautions such as special inks and papers to make forgery more challenging.

Forgery is also a large issue in the financial world. When forgers actually make currency, this is known as counterfeiting. But they can also sign false checks and other financial documents, causing a great deal of chaos, even if the crime is uncovered.

The examination of suspicious documents and other materials which may be forgeries is known as questionable document examination. People who study this particular branch of the forensic arts may choose to specialize in a particular type of forgery; specialists can focus on things like medieval paintings, currency, or title deeds, using a variety of equipment, skills, and techniques to uncover forgeries.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon258376 — On Apr 01, 2012

Counselor A met with a client several times before noticing several mistakes on the tracking sheet. When Counselor A noticed the mistakes, he met with the client to have him re-sign a new sheet. However the client met with Counselor B (a different counselor) at the beginning of the month. If Counselor A documents exactly what Counselor B had for their session, is writing Counselor B's initials considered forgery?

By anon233043 — On Dec 04, 2011

An international company jointly operates oil and gas business in malaysia. My former employer at my company has forged my signature to clear import and export customs papers without my permission. Is that a crime and to what extent and what is the statute of limitations?

By anon118336 — On Oct 13, 2010

I work at a production facility. Once we have completed one pallet of product ready to be shipped, we complete a pallet ticket to be placed on the finished pallet. On each ticket there are five fields with blank lines next to them to fill in. One of them asks "Completed by". If someone was to write someone else's initials in there own handwriting answering the general question, is this forgery?

By anon96088 — On Jul 14, 2010

I signed divorce papers then I did not agree so I filed motions. My husband turned in the final divorce decree, and my signature must have been copied and put withe the final decree, showing I signed. I did not sign. Is this forgery?

By anon86522 — On May 25, 2010

my principal had his secretary sign my name with her initials following to my leave papers without my permission. now they are docking my pay. what recourse do I have?

By anon79132 — On Apr 21, 2010

If you were married to someone you knew signed her dead mother's signature to her checks to help someone else cash these checks three days after her mom had died and the checks were for 45,000 dollars,35,000,40,000 and 25,000 is this a crime? If it is a crime what is the statue of limitations?

By anon72843 — On Mar 24, 2010

Yes it is a crime.

By ehung606631 — On Oct 23, 2008

A Husband and a Wife jointly owns a house. The Wife granted a General Power of Attorney to the Husband's sister. The Husband asked his sister (using that Power of Attorney) to apply for a mortgage loan against a house jointly owned by the Husband and the Wife. However, on the application form, the sister signed in the Wife's signature style, rather than the sister's own signature style - because she didn't know the correct usage of POA. The Wife later found out and called the police - about the forged signature. Is that a crime?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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