How to Catch A Forger, Part 1

We all recall the biographical crime drama film Catch Me If You Can (2002), starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, which depicted the life of Frank Abagnale, an expert in check fraud. The conclusion of the film presented us with a twist in the traditional “crime and punishment” verdict of our justice system; captured criminals and fraudsters are the experts, teachers, advisors and mentors for new generations of crime fighters and fraud examiners. It is due to their assistance in crime prevention and detection, as well as in the adjudicative process of identifying lies, deception or artifice, that the rate of fraud awareness has advanced to such lengths as to create hotlines, laws, and even new fields of study.

Throughout human history, communication methods revealed different statistics, linguistics and even the psyches of each individual. The analysis of these factors can expose the deceptive techniques that take place during human interaction. In our pursuit to develop our detection methods so as to better analyze that behavior, we looked to verbal and written samples of convicted felons. We even designed new technologies and studies that would allow us to identify whether or not the individual is actually committing perjury

Graphology, the study of handwriting and handwriting patterns, is one example of what crime fighters use to identify falsifications. Polygraphic tests, or lie detectors, are another example which analyzes body language and monitors bodily reaction rates by asking the individual questions.

Yet, despite such prototype efforts to identify criminals, many individuals have found ways to circumvent those efforts and fool both graphologists and lie detectors. For example, there are situations where a signature or letter can be forged by cutting out the victim’s signature and pasting it elsewhere and then covering the cut edges with white-out. In other cases, college credentials and years can be falsified—especially those prior to the invention of the internet—where the criminal can find university courses online, print them out, and then it’s just a process of copy-and-paste from there. As such, there are jurisdictions which refuse to accept lie detector reports or handwriting analysis as evidence in a case, because it is difficult to prove the initial signee of a forged document or track the graduation records of a self-proclaimed alumni.

Since our methods to identify fraud continue to improve, so do the ways of fraudsters to outwit fraud detection. In recent years, fraud examiners and crime fighters look at the dates, times, verbiage and content provided in new communication mediums, such as through emails, letters, texts and phone calls. At the time when behavioral psychology was demonstrated as the dominant form of science in detecting the human awareness, examiners solely looked to body language and behavioral characteristics as ways to expose a person’s intentions and previous crimes. However, since technology’s latest gizmos rely heavily on textual communication, we find that another way to identify liars, criminals or fraudsters through their lexical choice, writing techniques, and the previously overlooked minute parts of provided statements that in the end become undoubted sources of admission in courts and trials.

For over 60 years, authoritative sources in our criminal, civil, judicial and investigative systems have processed and developed statistical information for behavioral and linguistic patterns, such as prior crimes committed and the methods used to act on them, previous impulses of unruly behavior whether in private spheres or public, changes in their writing which can be tracked through signatures, etc. These investigative systems are accepted in the national and international arena as the golden rules in investigations and axioms in breaching that thin, almost undetectable border, between truth and lie.

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