Handwriting forgery is the duplication of someone's handwriting with the intent to create a document for fraudulent or other questionable uses. The most common form involves forging signatures, but people can also copy handwriting to generate handwritten documents purporting to be written by someone else. Detecting handwriting forgery can require the services of an expert with extensive experience and training in the study of handwriting.
Copying handwriting is very challenging and requires substantial practice. Simply tracing over a signature can leave tell-tale hesitation marks and other signs of a forgery. People attempting to master handwriting forgery obtain as many samples of the victim's handwriting as possible and use these to practice lettering documents like the target. Some natural variation in signatures is present in most people, but developing a forged signature within the tolerances of a person's normal margin of handwriting variation is difficult.
People can use handwriting forgery in a number of ways once they have managed to reliably copy someone's signature and writing. One option is document alteration, where a document produced by the victim is changed by the forger in some way. Checks, for example, can be altered into larger amounts. People can also create new documents from scratch, or affix a forged signature to contracts and other documentation. Impersonating another person, people can attempt to change wills and other documents, sign away property, and engage in similar activities.
Signatures on legal documents tend to be carefully inspected to confirm their validity if there is doubt about the origins of the document. A handwriting forgery expert may be called in if the document appears reliable, but there are nagging concerns. The expert can study samples known to be produced in the target's handwriting and compare them against the questionable document. Questionable document examination can involve tools like microscopy to magnify the document and collect as much information as possible.
Some very famous forgeries, including forged notes and journals, have been uncovered over the course of history. Sometimes it takes decades to unmask a forgery, while in other cases, the problems with the document are revealed immediately; for example, a person purporting to sell diaries written by a famous figure might make the mistake of using a type of paper not available when that person was alive. The study of handwriting forgery is a topic of interest among law enforcement, historians, and art experts, all of whom may have reason to question documents they come in contact with over the course of their work.