Forgery’s best-kept secret

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When asked to sign this or that — perhaps a card, receipt, cheque, or maybe even a simple draw ballot — generally we offer up our handwriting without another thought. But have you considered how your signature might be stored? Could it turn up later and be used without your knowledge? Admittedly the chances are slim. However, so are the chances of other crimes in our lives, yet they DO happen.

But what of it? How could a criminal copy your signature anyway? They would have to have a pretty good forger’s eye to pull off anything convincing, wouldn’t you think?

Not anymore. Thanks to advancements in technology, there are amazing devices out there that can fool even the experts. They go under such brand names as Autopen, Signature Machine, Ghostwriter, Axi-draw, or can be a no-name configuration designed by any number of robotics’ companies. They are available, in any price range, new or used.

These robotic arms can be standalone models or can attach to your computer by a USB cable. They can look like pantographs, or can be “plotters” that work on an XYZ axis. They will flawlessly reproduce any written sample you load into them. They are limited only by the quality of the original and the software used. The results are impressive because they can hold any implement in any colour whether it is a ballpoint pen, fountain pen, marker, pencil, crayon, or anything else.

This is not as novel as it may sound. Historically, simpler mechanical versions have been around for centuries. Thomas Jefferson is said to have had one. It held a quill and needed to be hand-dipped into ink. By the mid-20th century, they became computerized and have improved dramatically since. In many cases, you will not be able to identify your own handwriting from what the machine has produced. Do a quick search online and you can see many videos demonstrating their abilities.

The scary part is that law enforcement is not as knowledgeable as we would expect in either detecting or analyzing these created documents. A few of the groups who seem to be current are memorabilia experts who are always on the lookout for forgeries, marketers who want to give that personal look to their mailers, or politicians, often out of their local offices, who keep their signature machines securely protected.

And robotics’ companies, anxious to outdo their competitors in speed and quality, keep improving their products. The technology now exists to take even a sampling of one’s handwriting and produce whole written pages in your script. I am not inferring that legitimate manufacturers are making machines for the purpose of forgery; only that criminals are always after an easy way to exploit whatever they can to do the job.

Despite stiff penalties for fraud, crimes are still committed every day with robotic writing devices. They range from forged autographs and memorabilia, to phony cheques and wills, to real estate fraud and beyond.

I thought my original signatures were held safely in a professional’s office, but discovered they had been reproduced without my knowing. The loss has been financially and emotionally devastating, and after five years, the case is still before the courts. I want everyone to be aware of what I wasn’t.

So think carefully when you release your writing. If you must sign, modify your signature from your legal version, or get a photocopy for your records. Sometimes the only rights we have are the ones we can enforce ourselves.

By Deborah Carew

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