While certainly not the most glamorous or exciting types of investigations that exist, fraud and forgery investigations are important nonetheless. Fraud and forgery investigations can vary drastically in complexity and with regard to monetary loss. From the simplest fake artwork or jewelry case to the most complex international monetary fraud schemes, there are certain techniques a law enforcement officer can employ that have proven to be effective time and again when investigating any and all fraud or forgery investigations. In addition to these techniques, having a solid understanding and working knowledge of your police department or law enforcement agency’s evidence management system can make or break a fraud or forgery case. By following a few simple guidelines, law enforcement officers can look forward to successful results when investigating fraud or forgery cases.
Defining “Fraud” and “Forgery”
“Fraud” in the criminal sense can generally be thought of as illegal deception wherein the intention is to gain something of value, financial or otherwise. “Forgery” can be described as the generation of a copy of a document, signature, banknote, or work of art that can be sold for personal gain. Most developed countries around the world have laws dedicated to stopping fraud and forgery crimes, and there are even international organizations dedicated solely to combating crimes involving fraud or forgery. In 1934, United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Securities Exchange Act. Among other actions, this act created the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, whose sole responsibility it is to regulate the nation’s stock and options exchanges and root out fraud within these exchanges. It is believed that the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 was a direct result of rampant fraud within these exchanges, and that a regulatory body may have helped the United States avoid it and the subsequent “Great Depression” that followed.
Conducting Successful Fraud Investigations
While Fraud investigations may vary in size and scope, all modern day fraud investigations will share similar characteristics. All fraud investigations will have a nexus to the Internet of some kind, and as a result, will result in electronic evidence being seized eventually. Does your police department or law enforcement agency have the proper electronic evidence management system to handle this evidence? All fraud investigations will involve a scheme of some kind, and the first thing a law enforcement officer must do is figure out what that scheme is and who is involved. Does the scheme involve multiple jurisdictions or agencies? Are there multiple sovereign governments that have been affected directly by the scheme or have citizens who have been affected by the scheme?
Above all, the most important rule for law enforcement officers to follow when investigating fraud cases is to retain and maintain all records, documents, and evidence items involved with the case. Remember: you may have to fully describe, explain, and testify with regard to the case in court one day. This will be much easier to do if you follow all of your police department or law enforcement agency’s policies regarding evidence management.
Successful Forgery Investigations
On the surface, forgery investigations may seem like cut and dry affairs. After all, if a document, signature, banknote, or work of art is a fake and a suspect tries to profit monetarily from it, you have proved your case! The problem is, many forgers are very good at what they do and can evade even the most seasoned law enforcement officers.
The case of Frank Abagnale comes to mind when thinking of successful forgers. Aside from being a master check forger, Abagnale assumed no less than eight identities (and had forged identification documents for all of them), during the course of his “career.” Abagnale successfully passed himself off as an airline pilot, a lawyer, a physician, and a federal agent before he was caught and sent to prison for his crimes. After his release from prison, he was recruited to work for the FBI and still teaches at the FBI academy in Quantico, VA to this day. His exploits are memorialized in the movie Catch Me If You Can starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. While not all criminals who commit acts of forgery have happy endings to their stories like Mr. Abagnale does, there are lessons to be learned from their exploits.
Law enforcement officers who conduct forgery investigations must become familiar with; if not experts on, the item that they believe their suspect is forging. Officers conducting these investigations must make contacts with experts in the public or private sector who may be able to guide them in the right direction when examining items that may be forgeries. Above all, law enforcement officers conducting forgery investigations must be patient and document all of their findings meticulously. Only the most thorough of law enforcement officers will be successful in these types of investigations.
Fraud and forgery investigations may not seem like the most exciting cases to work on for law enforcement personnel, but they can be rewarding and significant nonetheless. Victims of fraud and forgery cases are often elderly or mentally challenged individuals who are vulnerable and need to be protected from bad actors.
Conducting successful fraud and forgery cases will involve a great deal of patience on the part of the law enforcement officer conducting the investigation. The law enforcement officer conducting the investigation must also be meticulous and thorough when documenting any evidence and he or she must preserve all paperwork, documents, and items of electronic evidence in case they are needed during court testimony.
At the end of a successful fraud or forgery case, the law enforcement officer conducting the investigation can take satisfaction in knowing that they have made a difference for the better in someone’s life, and that is what being a law enforcement officer is all about.