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What is Signature Forgery?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 16, 2024
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Signature forgery is a crime committed when a person signs another party's name or alters a document in order to commit fraud or deceive others. One common example of signature forgery involves check writing. If a person signs the name of the checking account holder to a check without the account holder’s permission, this is considered signature forgery. Likewise, signing another person’s signature to a range of other written documents without his permission also constitutes signature forgery.

The purpose or intent of signing another person’s name to a document is key in determining whether or not it is considered signature forgery. In most jurisdictions, the signer has to intend some type of deceit or plan to commit fraud for it to be considered forgery. Incidents in which a person has permission to sign another party’s name are not considered a crime.

An act can be considered signature forgery without regard to whether or not the entire signed document was created fraudulently — a forgery may occur if a person creates an entire document and signs someone else’s name to it. Many jurisdictions also consider it forgery, however, if a person alters a legitimately signed document by erasing, inserting, or changing any part of it without the signer’s knowledge and consent. Additionally, the document in question need not be a legal contract or other legal document for it to be considered forgery. A falsely signed or altered letter may be considered forgery as well.

Sometimes signature forgery occurs when a person abuses the trust another party has placed in him. For example, if one person asks another to draft a will for him, and the creator adds information that differs from what the requester specified, this may be considered fraudulent activity in some places. In fact, it may be considered forgery even if the person who requested the will signs it.

In some jurisdictions, the crime of forgery may be committed even if a document containing a forged signature is not used or published. For example, signing a check with the intent to commit fraud may lead to forgery charges even if a bank refuses to cash the check. Likewise, altering a legitimately signed document for the purpose of committing fraud may be enough to warrant forgery charges in some places, even if the crime is discovered before the signer suffers any harm. An individual may even be charged with a crime for possessing forgery tools with the intent to use them or allow another person to use them.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By hlinda0 — On Mar 14, 2017

The apartment complex forged my initials on a document stating that a microwave oven was supplied to my apartment upon my move in, which one wasn't. This is a document that I did sign, but the microwave was written in by pen later, and my initials put next to it.

Also, I have an adult son that has severe autism. Because he's over the age of 18, he also had to sign these documents. Upon looking over these documents in my file in the office, I also notice that my autistic son's signature has been forged. I asked the apartment manager for copies of all documents that have my, and my son's signature, but she refused to do so. What can I do ?

By anon982276 — On Dec 18, 2014

So in regards to working for a business and being the authorized person to sign documents, am I able to sign a w-9? The person is calling it forgery when all I did was sign on behalf of the company since the person (doctor) was not available.

By anon972151 — On Oct 02, 2014

Forgers do not have a sense of moral and decency and in my eyes, they should be locked up and they should throw away the key. They deserve to pay for what they do to others and how they potentially can ruin their lives.

By Robert2014 — On May 20, 2014

I'm involved in a USA lawsuit wherein the other party filed a translation of a letter I wrote in Dutch. The English translated document shows my signature (as like it was signed by me in blue ink) while I've never wrote the English letter. Is this a legal thing to do?

By anon938045 — On Mar 07, 2014

I have a question. What do I need to do? My mother signed my name on documents when I was 18 and I have recently being told it is the reason my credit score is so low. She signed my name on documents to buy something and obtained a loan in my name as she was the cosigner. Now I am being told that I will have to pay the full amount even though I had no knowledge of this action at all.

By anon936628 — On Mar 02, 2014

Wow. I feel bad because I am looking this up for forging my mama's signature. Ugh.

By anon930669 — On Feb 05, 2014

Over the past three months I have ordered pet food on line. Each time the parcel has been left on my doorstep without the courier knocking on the door.

On one occasion, since I was not going to be in I asked for it to be delivered next door but it was still left on my doorstep. I am notified by email to say my parcel has been delivered and signed for by me. I am a pensioner and I am concerned as I have no redress if the parcel goes missing as records show that I have signed for it. I have yet to sign for one of these deliveries!

I have contacted the company but just receive the same standard email each time assuring me they will deal with the matter, but they never do! Does anyone have suggestions please?

By TreeMan — On Jul 01, 2012

Although it isn't as serious as forging a check in most cases, there is a lot of money to be made by forging the signatures of famous people. I used to work at an antique store that specialized in selling sports cards and memorabilia. Obviously, things that have been signed by the players are worth a lot more than the items by themselves. There are a lot of people who will try their best to imitate signatures, though.

Fortunately, my boss was very good at handwriting analysis and had taken quite a few classes taught by a forensic document examiner where he learned how to tell the difference between real signatures and fake ones. They actually publish books showing the signatures of famous people and explaining what to look for to tell the real signatures from the fakes.

He taught me the basics of how to identify some of the easier signatures, but some of the fakes are very good, and I could never tell the difference. Like I mentioned, I worked in the sports world, but I know the same process exists for other fields like historical documents.

By cardsfan27 — On Jul 01, 2012

@Izzy78 - I know with credit cards, there are protection plans built in in the event that your card is lost or stolen. I don't know if it is the same with checks, though.

I was not aware that you could still be charged with forgery even if you did not go through with using the fake signature. It makes sense, though. Although much more serious, planning to commit murder is a crime even if you didn't go through with it.

What I always wondered about was how digital signatures worked. I have signed things digitally before, and it seems like I could have said I was anyone. I think if you are ever asked to sign something digitally that it is important you feel comfortable with the terms and conditions of what you are signing. Also, make sure that you print out a hard copy of whatever you digitally sign, because I'm sure there are shady people who could go back into the document and change words and make it appear that you signed something you really didn't.

By Emilski — On Jun 30, 2012

@Izzy78 - Hmm, it sounds like maybe it depends on the bank. At the bank I go to, if you take in a check and want the payment in cash, you have to show a photo ID. It sounds like maybe your bank is different. If you go to a smaller bank, it could be that the tellers already know who you are, so they don't check your ID. I have had that happen before.

In the scenario you described, though, I don't really know that there is any way to stop it. Like you said, if you cashed the fake check at a bank in another state, they wouldn't be any wiser to what the person's signature was supposed to look like. That is why it is important to keep all of your checks in a safe location, not just the ones that have been signed. Plus, it goes without saying that writing a blank check is a horrible idea.

By Izzy78 — On Jun 30, 2012

The thing I never really understood is how people get caught after they forge someone's signature. I feel like if someone got ahold of my checkbook, they could write a large check to themselves and get away with it.

Obviously, they wouldn't sign the check to their own name, but it seems like they could even make up a fake name, and it wouldn't matter. Any time I have ever cashed a check, no one ever checked any ID to make sure it was really me that the check was written to. I could have stolen someone's checkbook, written a fake name, signed it, and cashed it just the same as a legitimate check. Assuming it did all this before the person realized the check was gone, I would be long gone by the time the banks figured out that the check was forged.

Surely there is more to it, though, or this would be happening all the time. Does anyone know how banks get around this?

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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