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Forgery is a white-collar crime that generally refers to the false making or material alteration of a legal instrument with the specific intent to defraud anyone (other than themself). Tampering with a certain legal instrument may be forbidden by law in some jurisdictions but such an offense is not related to forgery unless the tampered legal instrument was actually used in the course of the crime to defraud another person or entity. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations.
Forging money or currency is more often called counterfeiting. But consumer goods may also be counterfeits if they are not manufactured or produced by the designated manufacturer or producer given on the label or flagged by the trademark symbol. When the object forged is a record or document it is often called a false document.
This usage of "forgery" does not derive from metalwork done at a blacksmith's forge, but it has a parallel history. A sense of "to counterfeit" is already in the Anglo-French verb forger, meaning "falsify".
A forgery is essentially concerned with a produced or altered object. Where the prime concern of a forgery is less focused on the object itself – what it is worth or what it "proves" – than on a tacit statement of criticism that is revealed by the reactions the object provokes in others, then the larger process is a hoax. In a hoax, a rumor or a genuine object planted in a concocted situation, may substitute for a forged physical object.
The similar crime of fraud is the crime of deceiving another, including through the use of objects obtained through forgery. Forgery is one of the techniques of fraud, including identity theft. Forgery is one of the threats addressed by security engineering.
In the 16th century, imitators of Albrecht Dürer's style of printmaking improved the market for their own prints by signing them "AD", making them forgeries. In the 20th century the art market made forgeries highly profitable. There are widespread forgeries of especially valued artists, such as drawings originally by Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, and Henri Matisse.
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A person is guilty of forgery if he makes a false instrument, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person’s prejudice.
"Instrument" is defined by section 8, "makes" and "false" by section 9, and "induce" and "prejudice" by section 10.
Forgery is triable either way. A person guilty of forgery is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.
For offences akin to forgery, see English criminal law#Forgery, personation, and cheating.
The Forgery of Foreign Bills Act 1803 was repealed in 2013.
In the Republic of Ireland, forgery is an offence under section 25(1) of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act, 2001 which provides:
A person is guilty of forgery if he or she makes a false instrument with the intention that it shall be used to induce another person to accept it as genuine and, by reason of so accepting it, to do some act, or to make some omission, to the prejudice of that person or any other person.
A person guilty of forgery is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or to a fine, or to both.
Any offence at common law of forgery is abolished. The abolition of a common law offence of forgery does not affect proceedings for any such offence committed before its abolition.
Except as regards offences committed before the commencement of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act, 2001 and except where the context otherwise requires, without prejudice to section 65(4)(a) of that Act, references to forgery must be construed in accordance with the provisions of that Act.
Forgery is a crime in all jurisdictions within the United States, both state and federal. Most states, including California, describe forgery as occurring when a person alters a written document "with the intent to defraud, knowing that he or she has no authority to do so." The written document usually has to be an instrument of legal significance. Punishments for forgery vary widely. In California, forgery for an amount under $950 can result in misdemeanor charges and no jail time, while a forgery involving a loss of over $500,000 can result in three years in prison for the forgery plus a five-year "conduct enhancement" for the amount of the loss, yielding eight years in prison. In Connecticut, forgery in the Third Degree, which is a class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 6 months in jail, a $1000 fine, and probation; forgery in the First Degree, which is a class C felony, is punishable by a maximum 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 fine, or both.
As to the effect, in the United Kingdom, of a forged signature on a bill of exchange, see section 24 of the Bills of Exchange Act 1882.