Document falsification is a serious matter. Someone convicted of this act could face heavy fines or years of imprisonment, possibly both. There are many ways to falsify documents. For instance, if you answer questions on a form by providing false information or use company letterhead without authorization, you could run afoul of the law. Forging a signature comes under this category as does the act of altering, concealing or destroying records.
Trying to alter the facts
The act of altering records is an example of document falsification, which is a white-collar crime. Sometimes, the effort is quite sophisticated, but to a trained investigator, this kind of illegal activity is often easy to detect. Sometimes, it is found that record entries do not match properly or that the records have been completed by the same person every day of the year, indicating that this sterling individual never takes a vacation or a weekend off. The investigator might see that the handwriting is always the same and that the same pen is always used in completing the records, which leads to the assumption that the documents were completed in organized batches.
White-collar crime explained
The definition of white-collar crime is simple: it is a non-violent, financially motivated misdeed, which is committed by business or government professionals. Sociologist Edwin Sutherland coined the phrase in 1939, calling it a crime “committed by a person of respectability.” Today, the term encompasses a number of illegal activities, including fraud, insider trading, embezzlement, cybercrime, identity theft and forgery, among others.
The popularity of real estate forgery
A comprehensive example of document falsification is real estate forgery, which appears to be on the rise. This is a scheme whereby a homeowner’s signature is forged on a property deed so that the forger can claim title to the property being transferred. The forger uses false identification to get the deed notarized. Once that is done, the scammer gets the deed recorded and uses it to take out a mortgage loan, then disappears with the funds. In due course, the bank starts foreclosure proceedings against the real homeowner, who, of course, had no idea a scam had occurred.
Establishing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
Passed in 2002, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act aims to protect investors from corporate wrongdoing, such as fraudulent accounting activities. Certain provisions apply to privately held companies and speak to the willful act of destroying evidence to impede a federal investigation.
According to Chapter 73 of title 18 of the United States Code under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, anyone who knowingly falsifies documents to “impede, obstruct or influence” an investigation shall be fined or face a prison sentence of up to 20 years. While it sets expanded requirements for U.S. public companies and accounting firms, the act takes nothing away from other state and federal laws and regulations that speak to the alteration or destruction of documents, whether they be in tangible or electronic form. If you are interested in learning more about this type of malfeasance, or if you feel you are the victim of document falsification, you can contact an attorney experienced in matters involving white-collar crime.