Check your Cheques

Fraudulent documents come in many forms… Sale deeds, Identity cards, Wills, Paper money, and so on.  A Cheque is one such commonly counterfeited document.  Cheques are made with security features for the identification of legitimacy.  

While examining counterfeit cheques, there are overt (visible) features such as watermarks, logos, serial numbers, A/c numbers, etc. While these features, with an in-depth study, can be replicated to a certain extent by fraudsters, the covert (concealed) security features such as watermarks, color system, UV visible features, and micro lettering that are ingrained in the cheques require sophisticated attempts.    

Cheques can also be tampered with in the form of erasures, overwriting, and termed as alterations. Erasures mean the removal of any writing or character from the document. For example, using a sharp tool like a blade to scrape the ink off a paper.  Overwriting is writing something on top of pre-existing characters. Scratches, scribbles, or writings on top of previous writing are also considered as tampering with the cheque and will render it invalid. Alterations are changes or modifications made to the material. These alterations can be made with different writing instruments, sharp tools, etc.  

When a cheque has been tampered with or being questioned, particularly with civil or criminal litigations, it is referred to as disputed or questioned document. These questioned cheques are then submitted to a forensic lab for examination of the writings, signatures, and the document as a whole under various lighting/visualization instruments. 

Most fraudulent cheques are suspected or caught by financial institutes, such as banks, who then forward them to document examiners for analysis and verification to Forensic labs is required.  

Truth Labs has examined numerous varieties of alterations involving cheques.  In one such instance, it was found that high skill and planning was employed by internal employees of a jewelry store to use chemical erasing technique which were detected in our labs.  Many instances of alterations in the amount written as numbers and differences in inks used for writing are easily detected and analyzed by our experts.  In some instances, the cheque had all the overt security features to make it appear authentic. But on closer examination using visualization tools, the experts were able to identify the absence of security features, such as the watermark, hologramscolor system, paper quality, ultraviolet light features, pantographic image, and microscopic features. 

Our questioned document reports have assisted numerous financial institutions, individuals, courts and police identify and prevent unlawful transactions which saved the banks and the victimized customers from losing their money.   

The Best Forgery can easily be detected in a minute if a correct technique is used. How?

No two persons are identical in terms of their thumb fingerprints and DNA fingerprints as most of us know. Similarly, no two individual handwritings or signatures are alike to those who are proficient in forensic handwriting analysis. Such persons are called Experts in Questioned Documents (QD) or Handwriting Experts, who possess a Master’s Degree in Science of Physics/Chemistry/Forensic Science, etc. along with long years of experience in handling various cases of forgeries from Courts/Police/Corporates/Banks/Insurance companies/Individuals examining documents such as sale deed, will, cheques, promissory notes etc.

While hand practiced forgeries are common in many forged documents, technology driven forgery of signature or handwriting is known as “Transplantation”. In other words, hand written matter created by scanning the needed parts of the written content, stored in a memory of a computer device, positioned in location/place/spot where needed to appear, which could be saved or be printed using an appropriate printer like colour laser printer, etc. to result in a document, sharp enough so as to appear as near original.

If such questioned documents are referred to the Government Forensic Laboratories such as Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) or State Forensic Science Laboratory (SFSL) or reputed independent laboratories like Truth Labs, the first non-profit lab in India, the experts will detect the transplanted forgery in a way described below which is the subject matter for discussion in this blog.

Such mischief can easily be detected by superimposing the signatures one upon the other by capturing images or photographs of the original and questioned signatures perfectly fit as though looking as the original itself. The writing characteristics such as speed, slant, pen movement, skill, alignment, spacing, size & relative proportion of letters/characters, style, arrangement of letters/characters, pen pressure and line quality (depending on the quality of the document) do not change. In such cases, with one single instrument “Video Spectral Comparator (VSC)” which is the magic wand that finds the forgery just by flipping the document containing the suspected forgery inside the video spectral cabinet and examines the forged and original ones side by side. Superimposing one on the other can reveal that both are identical. In forensic handwriting science, the basic principle is if “TWO HANDWRITINGS” are identical, it must be a forgery-thereby detecting the superimposed signature/writing is a forged one.

To illustrate the technique, details of a case recently handled by Truth Labs is given below: 

A gentleman in grief approached Truth Labs to seek our expert’s opinion on a document claimed to be disputed with his forged signatures. A case was registered accordingly after collecting his admitted (signatures written by the author in his normal course of life) and specimen (signatures taken at our lab in the presence of a scientific staff) signatures. During the routine course of examination, few disputed signatures and few admitted signatures were found to be identical from all dimensions, which was confirmed through the observations made using VSC as they were superimposing one one another. In the midst of report generation, the client rushed to our lab with another document and asked us to consider this new document (b) and ignore the previously submitted disputed document (a). Upon preliminary examination, apart from the signatures of the client, rest all of the contents in (a) and (b) were identical. This raised a doubt why of all the signatures in document (b) and all other signatures are different and tallying with document (a). On careful study, one signature on a page could not be manipulated by cutting and pasting or morphing by the client because the signature was put on a security stamp impression which he could not have separated for manipulation. That was when it was gathered that the main culprit in this case was the client himself. When he realised that the report might not be in his favour, he later submitted another copy by digitally morphing, signing again and taking a black & white xerox (to hide any morphing marks) copy for examination. In order to prove himself innocent, he committed the same crime twice. 

In conclusion, the most trickiest cases can be solved with the correct technique and proficient personnel as “No Question remains Unanswered at Truth Labs!”.

Age of Ink

Determination of Age of Ink is difficult but not impossible at least in some cases with adequate evidence for comparative analysis available to understand the backdrop. So, let’s look at what ink, paper, environment in which the writings were stored, etc., and based on that, how we could attempt ageing it.

Ink is said to have been developed by the Egyptians and the Chinese around the same time in the 23rd century. The components ranging from dyes and pigments mixed with stabilizer polymers, liquid solvents, fillers.

To determine the age of ink the factors to be considered are ink composition, paper properties and exposure to light and humidity. It is nearly impossible to control or even know the storage conditions for documents.

One of the techniques to determine age is to identify the ink’s composition. By doing so, a comparative analysis is run with the manufacturer’s composition which can be estimated for the year of manufacturing. So, if a document is claimed to be made in 1997 but the ink on the page matches with components manufactured in 2007, the document is fraudulent.

Gas chromatography- Mass spectroscopy is the current widely accepted method for testing age of ink, but this would involve a portion of the written ink to be destroyed in the process. Hence, this is not recommended or commonly performed for cases.

Determination of the age of paper is an approximation process that is still experimental. The various components in the paper can be analyzed for their paper dating. The methods being experimented on include colour analysis of the paper for gray level, RGB and HSV analysis. Optical Brightening Agents in Paper can also be analyzed to check for the period in which the document was produced. Small-Angle Neutron Scattering (SANS) can be used for measuring nano-sized water-filled pores of cellulose fiber on the papers.

There are various other methods, but the cost to result ratio is not promising for a commercial purpose. In legal scenarios, we require an accurate result, and since that is not possible, Age of Ink and Paper is a futile exercise.

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