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Forgery is commonly thought of as the white collar crime of signing another person’s name to a document, like forging signatures on a check, for instance. But the actual definition of forgery is much more complicated than that, and the penalty for check fraud and the penalty for check forgery aren’t as cut and dried, either. Just within check forgery law, you can have several different types of forgery and fraud crimes, including filling in an amount on a signed check. And forgery goes far beyond checks and bank notes. Creating, forging or altering almost any document, for the intent of fraud or making money, is considered forgery and is subject to state and sometimes federal laws and penalties for individuals caught forging federal documents.
Commonly Forged Documents
While checks are the forged document most people are aware of, there are many other types of documents and instruments that are commonly forged and counterfeited.
- Money orders
- Court Seals
- Corporate documents
- Documents used in identity theft
Forgery is a type of fraud that carries many of the same penalties as counterfeiting because the three crimes often overlap. The penalty for forgery can vary a great deal depending on many factors, like the severity of the crime, the extent of the crime and whether or not it was committed on a national level. In any case, it is imperative to contact a criminal lawyer to defend these types of cases.
Most forgery cases are tried on a state level using state-mandated penalties. But forgery is also a federal offense, and in some circumstances the federal courts will try forgery cases.
Penalty for Forgery
How much money was to be gained through the forgery is the main factor in determining a penalty for the crime. A forgery that was intended to gain the forger thousands of dollars or more will carry much stiffer penalties than a forged $100 check. But even forgeries on a very small scale can be picked up by federal courts if they were done in more than one state, or on a document or instrument on a federal level, like a bond or security.
The United States Criminal Code has 45 different statues that cover frauds like forgery and counterfeiting, so an experienced criminal lawyer with this specialized knowledge is necessary to defend a person against charges of forgery. The penalties for forgery can range from mild penalties like requiring the convicted person to repay the ill-begotten funds, a penalty known as restitution, to the severe like prolonged jail sentences. Assets can be seized and sold to repay stolen money, and often are in high-value forgeries. Lower value forgeries will often require restitution and small jail terms, or even just time served from the time of arrest until the conclusion of the case.
But most penalties for forgery will include a combination of restitution and jail time, the length of which depends on the severity of the crime. First offenses for smaller amounts of money will receive the more lenient sentencing. No matter how small the crime, though, a person convicted of forgery will have felony criminal record.