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Forgery Charges: Definition, Examples & 2024 Facts Explained

Forgery is typically considered a felony offense. However, the severity of the charge can depend on the circumstances and the laws of the jurisdiction. In many cases, forgery involves the creation, alteration, or use of a false document with the intent to deceive or defraud. This can include forging signatures, altering checks, or creating counterfeit documents.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

What is Forgery?

According to Wikipedia, forgery is a white-collar crime that generally refers to the false making or material alteration of a legal instrument with the specific intent to defraud [1].

This crime is distinct from tampering with a legal instrument, which may be illegal but is not considered forgery unless the tampered document is used to commit fraud. Copies or replicas are not considered forgeries unless they are knowingly misrepresented as authentic.

Counterfeiting, on the other hand, specifically refers to the forging of money or consumer goods to deceive others. When the forged item is a document, it is often referred to as a false document. It’s important to note that forgery focuses on the act of creating or altering the object, while a hoax involves using the object to provoke a reaction or convey a message.

Also Read: Counterfeit Money Charges

Examples of Forgery

According to Tomas Tears, forgery encompasses various actions, including [2]:

  • Signing the name of another person or of a fictitious person on a document without authority
  • Creating a counterfeit seal of another individual or entity
  • Falsifying, altering, counterfeiting, or duplicating a driver’s license or government-issued ID card
  • Falsifying, altering, or forging an entry in a book of records
  • Modifying a medical record with fraudulent intent

According to law, forgery can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This offense, upon conviction, can result in a jail term of up to one year in county jail or up to three years in prison. This crime can also result in fines that value thousands of dollars. These are very serious penalties that should not be taken lightly!

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Federal and State Law Examples

According to FindLaw, forgery laws exist at both the federal and state levels, encompassing a range of offenses and penalties [3]:

Federal Forgery Laws:

Federal forgery laws encompass counterfeiting and altering documents related to the federal government.
This includes military, treasury, and postal documents, as well as documents affecting interstate commerce like contracts, bonds, and securities.
Penalties for federal forgery can be severe. For instance, using a counterfeit check issued through the U.S. Treasury for a purchase could lead to up to 25 years in prison.

Aggravated Identity Theft:

Federal law also addresses aggravated identity theft, which involves knowingly using someone else’s identification without authority.
A conviction for aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year prison term on top of the underlying offense.

State Forgery Laws (New York):

In New York, forgery laws are categorized into first-, second-, and third-degree offenses.
First-degree forgery involves falsified or fraudulent government-issued documents, and offenders can face up to 15 years in state prison.
Second-degree forgery includes forged documents related to real estate deeds, wills, contracts, and public records, carrying up to seven years of prison time.
Third-degree forgery covers all other forged documents and can result in misdemeanor charges with up to one year in jail.

Penalties Based on Dollar Value:

In some states, penalties for forgery tend to increase based on the dollar value of the deceptive act. State statutes authorize felony charges for forgeries for dollar amounts over $500 or $1,000. Felony forgery crimes may lead to prison time. Misdemeanor forgery charges can result in local jail time. Sentences for forgery may also include restitution for the victims of the deception.

Counterfeit Offenses Quick Facts

Offender and Offense Characteristics:

  • Approximately 77.6% of counterfeit offenders were male.
  • In terms of racial demographics, about 49.6% were White, 41.2% were Black, 8.4% were Hispanic, and 0.9% were from other races.
  • The average age of offenders was 33 years.
  • A vast majority, about 95.2%, were United States citizens.
  • About 28.5% had little to no prior criminal history, falling into Criminal History Category I.
  • The median loss for these offenses was $6,600.
  • Around 71.6% of cases involved loss amounts of $15,000 or less, while 4.1% involved loss amounts greater than $150,000.
  • Sentences were enhanced for various factors, including manufacturing or producing counterfeit obligations, possessing counterfeiting paper, possessing altered currency paper, or possessing a counterfeit deterrent (57.0%); possessing a firearm or other dangerous weapon in connection with the offense (3.5%); committing any part of the offense outside the United States (1.3%); having a leadership or supervisory role in the offense (6.1%); and obstructing or impeding the administration of justice (3.1%).
  • Sentences were decreased for minor or minimal participation in the offense (3.1%).
  • The top five districts for counterfeit offenders were the District of South Carolina (26 offenders); the Central District of California (16 offenders); the Eastern District of Missouri (13 offenders); the Middle District of Florida (12 offenders); and the Northern District of Texas (11 offenders).

Source: United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) [4]

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