A forensic science perspective
Some of the different items in question, how they are tested, and what can be found are discussed below:
1. PRINTING INK:
Counterfeit documents are often produced by commercial printing, usually utilizing the offset printing process but sometimes also using the typographic or intaglio processes. The ink used in the production of these documents may be compared with inks on other like documents, with inks in containers found at print shops, or with inks found on counterfeit paraphernalia such as printing presses, offset plates, etc. In order to conduct these analyses, fairly large samples (approximately 1/4" circle) must be taken from the documents in question.
A determination can be made as to whether the ink(s) on documents in question and the inks from known sources (such as ink containers, offset plates, et cetera) are the same or different.
All evidence should be inventoried and submitted with a request letter. Samples of printing ink may be submitted in small vials or in cans. Specify the ink and/or documents to be compared.
2. TRACINGS AND SIMULATIONS:
Occasionally signatures are forged by either carefully copying (imitating) the signature from a model genuine signature or from memory of the general appearance of the signature being copied; or the signature may be traced from a model signature by such methods as using back lighting (sometimes called a window tracing), an indented outline, or a carbon outline.
Although it is seldom possible to identify the author of a simulation and never possible to identify the author of a tracing by handwriting comparisons, it is possible to determine that the signature in question is in fact a tracing or simulation, and sometimes it is also possible to find the actual model signature.
In addition to obtaining request exemplars in questioned signature cases, it is also advisable to obtain non-request signatures such as those found on cancelled checks, especially if it is suspected that a tracing or simulation has occurred.
3. OFFICE MACHINE COPIERS:
In recent years the office machine copier "OMC" industry has expanded enormously. Not only has the demand for copiers increased, but the technology has expanded outside the standard office copier. This growth is seen in the full color copiers, ink jet copiers, digital stencil duplicators, thermal printers, laser printers and multi-purpose machines. With the ease of use and accessibility of these machines, the use of OMC's for fraudulent activities has increased dramatically.
A microscopic and/or chemical examination may reveal the type of process used to print the document. This can then be compared against the process(es) used to produce genuine or unaltered documents to aid in determining authenticity.
As a copier is used, defects occur from scratches on the platen (the glass where the original document is placed), the document cover, the photoreceptor (the charged drum inside the copier) or the fuser rollers (the rollers which fuse the toner to the paper). These defects may be visualized on the copy. A defect, or "trash mark", comparison can be made between questioned copies and suspect machines; and it is possible to identify a specific copier as being the copier on which the questioned copies were made.
If identification cannot be made, it is still possible to make a comparison of class characteristics to confirm or eliminate the possibility that the copier could have been used in the production of the copy. At times "trash marks" may be used in conjunction with machine service records and documents known to have been copied on given dates to determine the approximate date a specific document was copied or to determine that a document could not have been copied on a given date.
Documents submitted for copier or printer analysis should be submitted for document analysis prior to submitting for latent print examination. When a copier is suspected in making the questioned documents, samples should be taken as soon as possible. Defects change with use, so time is often a factor in the ability to identify the suspect machine. Toner may also be depleted and replenished with use, sometimes making a chemical analysis of questionable value.
In obtaining samples, several sets should be taken. A set should contain multiple (seven to ten) copies of each paper size available for the machine. Each set should be stapled together and labeled as to how they were produced; which side is the image side; the make, model and serial number of the machine; and initialed and dated.
The first set should be taken with a clean white sheet of paper on the glass the same size as the copy size. The second set should be made with no paper on the platen and the cover down. The third set should be taken with no paper on the platen and the cover up. The last set should be a copy of any original document, which covers at least a quarter of the page. A full color original should be used when taking samples of a full color copier. These samples should be submitted to the lab with the questioned documents.
Erasures (physical removal), eradications (chemical removal) and obliterations (overwriting or opaquing) are frequently encountered when attempts are made to hide or alter written entries.
The document examiner has many tools that can be effectively used to decipher erased, obliterated or eradicated writings. The success of these attempts at decipherment varies depending on the writing instrument, the writing surface and the degree of obliteration. Many times it is possible to restore or decipher the original information and this evidence can be of great value in solving a case.
A document containing a suspected alteration should be handled with extra care to prevent further damage to any potential evidence. Place the document in a protective envelope and avoid unnecessary folding or marking. Label the protective envelope prior to inserting the evidence to prevent further marks or indented writings. A request for this type of analysis must be done prior to any treatment for latent prints, since the chemical treatment for latent fingerprints often destroys any evidence of this nature.
Typewriting is found on numerous document cases investigated by Document Examiners. Wills, legal documents, credit card applications, anonymous and threatening letters, and counterfeit identification documents, e.g. Social Security Cards and drivers' licenses often bear typewriting.
The most common typewriting examinations are 1) determining the make and model of the typewriter, 2) determining whether a known typewriter prepared a questioned document, 3) determining whether two different documents were reproduced on the same typewriter, and 4) determining whether additions were made to a document. Additionally, transcripts can be made from some typewriter ribbons.
It is not always necessary to send in a typewriter. Instead, usually the ribbon or ribbon cartridge should be removed and marked for identification and replaced with a new ribbon or cartridge. A complete strike-up of the keyboard, both uppercase and lowercase, should be prepared and the entire questioned text should be duplicated (several times if very limited questioned typewriting). The known sample should also be marked as to manufacturer and serial number of the machine, date sample was taken and name of person taking sample. If a transcript of the ribbon is desired, the ribbon or cartridge should be submitted. If there is a question regarding whether it would be better to send in the typewriter, contact us for instructions.
6. INDENTED WRITING
Indented writing on a document is the result of pressure from a writing instrument on a preceding page. Anonymous and threatening letters, altered documents, checks bearing traced signatures and other documents could contain indented writing.
Indented writing may be deciphered through side lighting or with the aid of laboratory equipment. Subsequent handwriting examinations are sometimes possible with deciphered indented writing.
Any document suspected of containing indented writing should be submitted to SFC in a plastic envelope for examination. Every attempt should be made not to write on documents that are placed atop the questioned document.
7. COUNTERFEIT DOCUMENTS
Counterfeit documents are usually produced by one or more of five printing methods: Letterpress (relief; typographic), printing from a raised surface; intaglio (gravure), printing from a depressed surface; offset lithography (planographic), printing from a plane or flat surface; office machine copier, copies made directly from genuine currency; and screen (formerly silk screen), printing through a porous material. The fastest growing method of producing counterfeit documents is by office machine copiers or computer and computer printer.
SFC may be able to provide possible sources for materials necessary to produce a particular counterfeit document; identify paper as to manufacturer and distributors; determine the method of production; and identify the office machine copier used in the production of counterfeit.
Place the document in a protective envelope and avoid unnecessary folding or marking. Label the protective envelope prior to inserting the evidence to prevent further marks or indented writings. A request for this type of analysis must be done prior to any treatment for latent prints, since the chemical treatment for latent fingerprints often destroys evidence of the printing process.