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Business Watch, a program of the Bedford City Police Department, gave local business people a chance to learn about fake documents last month.
Ron Morris, a retired Secret Service agent was on hand to talk to them. Morris served as a forensic document examiner while employed by the Secret Service and, in retirement, runs a consulting business providing the same service.
According to Morris, a person who wants to go into this work must have a minimum of a master’s degree and undergo a three to four year training program. After training, the new forensic document examiner will have all his work reviewed by a senior examiner for five to eight years before his work can fly solo.
Morris is certified as a forensic document examiner by the Secret Service. He has testified as an expert witness on documents 275 times in federal, state and local courts as well as in military courts martial.
His work included examining business machine impressions. These are embossers that were used to make fake credit cards and fake IDs.
Morris said that it isn’t hard for a criminal to buy the equipment to make these. Furthermore, some are made offshore. He told business people that it’s important for employees, who take credit card payments, to know what those cards are supposed to look like.
He also examined printing processes.
Sometimes a fake page can be printed and inserted into a genuine document. In many cases these fake pages can contain genuine signatures. The criminal was able to do this by scanning a person’s signature and inserting it in the fake page at the proper point.
Then, of course, there is handwriting analysis — being able to decide if two samples of writing were made by the same person, looking at characteristics such as how the writer held the pen and how much pressure is used. Characteristics of how letters are made are also significant. An examiner can spot these even in cases where a person is trying to disguise his handwriting.
Ink analysis can also help, indicating two different pens were used in a hand-written document.
What sort of things do business people need to be alert for?
“Anything they would be receiving in the normal course of business,” he said.
And, of course, “know your money,” he said.
According to Morris, the Treasury has a publication called “Know Your Money,” that gives information on how to tell if money is real, and urged business people to learn about this. He noted that the little marker that people often use on large bills, like $50 and $100 bills is good, but not foolproof.
Checks can also be counterfeited and he urged businessmen to verify the information that is on a check.
“You can produce a check with modern-day printers and computers,” he said. “If people have done a nice job with a counterfeit it is going to be very difficult.”
Morris, by the way, is not a fan of the way checks are often handled today. The original gets destroyed and people get back a sheet with copies of the original check.
He said the problem comes if a particular check was a fake. An examiner will have a difficult time telling if the original was a fake, or if the signature was actually physically placed on the check.
According to Morris, this means that evidence is actually being destroyed.