When you hear the word forgery, you probably think about the concept of forging someone’s signature. While creating a false signature is forgery, the crime of forgery can extend to a variety of similar activities. Basically, forgery includes creating a false copy of anything in order to illegally or falsely obtain value; forgery charges are considered white collar crimes.

Forgery charges only apply if a person creates a false copy of something with the intent to deceive someone else and gain value. A good example where a false copy doesn’t necessarily lead to criminal activity can be seen in the art world. Many times, copies of valuable art are made by modern artists. Sometimes, the copies are made simply for practice; other times, someone wants to hang a copy in their own home.

Creating a copy of the Mona Lisa and hanging it in your living room isn’t a crime. It’s not even a crime if you tell your neighbor the copy is the real deal, as long as you don’t then try to sell the painting to him. Art copies become forgeries if you attempt to pass off the copy as real in order to gain value through monetary payment or acclaim.

Common forgeries that can lead to criminal charges include signing someone’s name on a check, creating false contracts or estate planning documents such as wills and creating false licenses. For example, creating a license that proves you are a certain age or forging a marriage license in order to receive benefits could result in criminal activity.

Because there is a line between making a copy of something for pleasure and making a copy for intended fraud purposes, criminal charges can occur when there is actually no criminal activity. Understanding how to defend against such charges is an important skill in protecting your future.

Source: FindLaw, “Forgery,” accessed July 10, 2015