Basics of Forgery

Every day around the world, contracts are willingly entered into by two or more parties who agree to be bound by them. Sometimes, though, an individual creates a false document or alters a legitimate contract with the intent to be fraudulent. This is considered “forgery” and is usually considered a felony in all 50 US states.

One type of forgery is signature forgery. When this occurs, certain legal actions may need to be taken. When, Note that a number of criminal statutes require the individual making the forgery to be attempting to gain benefit, usually monetary, from it. For example, a person could purposely modify a check worth $1,000 to $10,000 with the intent of making an additional $9,000 illicitly, without the other party’s knowledge. By changing the amount, that individual has performed an act of forgery and is subject to criminal punishment, such as fines or imprisonment. Additionally, civil liabilities may be faced.

What is Signature Forgery?

Signature forgery is the act of falsely replicating another person’s name or signature on documents, which is against the law and considered a crime that comes with numerous consequences for someone or their business

The penalties include criminal charges, jail time, document annulment, money reimbursement for the victim, and more. 

If you or your company is or suspects you are a victim of signature forgery, we highly recommend seeking legal advice from an attorney immediately, as fraud or forgery cases often have a statute of limitations. Having a person to act as an expert witness to back your claim will help solidify your case.

Legal signatures are completed through writing or the use of a machine or device. A signature may consist of any mark, word, or symbol that has been adopted by a person who intends to authenticate a document. 

If a person signs a contract without the other party's consent, the signature does not bind the document or contract. This is because the intent of both parties has not been established. Both parties must sign a document or contract to make it legally binding.

The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) governs commercial transactions and the sale of goods. It states that an individual is only bound on an instrument if they have personally signed it or had a representative sign it upon their request.

What Are the Elements of a Valid Contract?

There are certain elements required in a contract in order for it to be valid. 

These elements include:

  • An offer: A statement of intent to enter into and establish a contract is called an offer.
  • Acceptance: Consent to the terms of a contract is referred to as acceptance.
  • Material items: Specifications should be clarified such as the price, nature, and identification of the contract. These are referred to as material items.
  • Consideration: This is typically defined as offering something of value from one party to the other, normally by committing one promise for another.

A contract must be detailed enough that a court can legally enforce it if necessary, and review by legal counsel is recommended for all contracts or contract templates.

Is Forging a Signature a Crime?

Forging a signature is a crime in all 50 U.S. states, and is considered a felony by all though many also have allowances for forgery being a misdemeanor in certain cases. 

Punishment varies by state, with forgery resulting in everything from jail time down to probation or restitution.

The seriousness of and punishment for forgery is also based on a few factors. For example, forgery of official government documents is taken very seriously whereas a small monetary amount being taken out of perceived necessity with intent to pay back will likely be given more leniency by the courts.

Some states, like New York, have degrees of forgery that all have different definitions and punishments. It is important to know your own state’s individual laws so you can respond to 

What Do You Do If Someone Forges a Signature on a Contract?

Forging a signature is a serious legal issue, and must be dealt with appropriately. ramifications. 

For example, let’s say that an unauthorized signer gains access to your bank account and makes it appear that you agreed to a contract. It is important to act quickly upon the realization that someone has forged your signature in this case.

Immediately contact the party that received the fraudulent documentation or contract. This grants the recipient the opportunity to rectify past actions or stop any further damaging action that may occur from the forged contract. 

Although it depends on the recipient, there may be a certain time frame in which you need to report a forged document. For example, a bank may require that notification is provided within 60 days of discovering the unauthorized transaction or loan application on an account statement.

How Do I Report Signature Forgery to a Bank?

A bank may require a written statement, with your real signature, in order to document that you believe a signature has been forged and that you are attesting to this under penalty of prosecution. This will also initiate the process of reversing any negative effects that may have been caused by the forged document. 

This statement will also release the receiving party of any responsibilities if the signature actually turns out to be authentic. To clarify, a bank may only consent to reimburse your money after you complete an affidavit which states that you believe that a signature has been forged.

This affidavit will allow the institution who has received the forged document to investigate the situation further. There are some cases in which legal help may be required to solve the problem.

For example, a party may attempt to sue you if you don't carry out the terms that were outlined in a contract that was forged but also signed by an authorized person at the other party. In these cases, you should consult an experienced contract review attorney and may need to attend court.

Sometimes a handwriting expert may have to be consulted in order to verify that a signature was definitely forged. Additionally, if a professional forged your signature while performing their typical work activities, you may need to contact an industry regulator. 

An example of this occurrence would be a real estate agent who signs off on a contract to sell your property, without your consent.

What To Do If Someone Forges Your Signature

If you need help resolving legal issues coming from a false signature on a contract, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.