As a California lawyer, I have been fighting con artists and flimflam men (that’s my favorite synonym for fraudsters!) since 1998, and I can’t tell you how many forged signatures, fake notary seals and fabricated documents that I have seen. Thousands, for sure.
What are my rights when someone forged my signature?
The short answer is: If someone forges your signature, you have a right to
- immediately notify the recipient of your forged signature,
- make a police report at the local station,
- consult an attorney. If you take these three steps immediately, you should be able limit the amount of damage caused by the deception.
First consideration: Are you a victim of forgery?
The act of forging a signature is a crime, but as with all types of fraud, forgery cannot be committed by accident. To commit a forgery, the forger must intend to deceive another person with the fake signature.
If you gave the signer permission to sign your name, then they did not commit forgery. If the signer did not have actual authority to sign your name but they believed they had permission, AND this belief was reasonable, then they did not commit the crime of forgery.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Did someone sign your name?
- Did the person NOT have authority to sign your name?
- Did the person know that they did not have authority to sign your name?
- Did the person intend to deceive someone by signing your name?
If they answer to all four questions is Yes, then you were a victim of forgery.
Step One: Notify the recipient of your forged signature.
Now that you have determined you are victim of forgery, you need to begin to limit the damage the fraudster can do. Who did they intend to deceive and why? If you know who that person or company is, then contact them immediately.
Let me give you an example. I had elderly clients whose identities were stolen by a con artist who wanted to buy a house in their name. To do so, the fraudster needed a power of attorney in the names of my clients, so that she could tell everyone that she was acting on the authority of my clients. (She was not. They had no idea she did this.)
To obtain the power of attorney, the fraudster simply forged my clients’ names, forged the names of the witnesses, and forged the notary’s signature and seal. She then filed the power of attorney at the county recorder’s office, and when she was done, she had a very official-looking document. With the fraudulent power of attorney, she was able to obtain a mortgage loan and buy a house in my clients’ names
By the time my clients discovered the forgeries, the fraudster had already purchased the home, which made it more difficult to unwind the situation. But, you can see that if they had known earlier, they could have stopped the mortgage loan and home purchase from taking place.
For this reason, it is important to notify the intended target of the forgery as soon as possible so that they can prevent as much harm as possible.
Step Two: File a police report.
Forgery is a very powerful crime. As in the example I described above, forged signatures on the right document – i.e., on a power of attorney, on a deed, on a check, on a will, or on a contract – can enable sophisticated con artists to steal lots of money.
In my example, the forged power of attorney enabled the con artist to obtain a mortgage loan in the amount of $625,500. This constitutes mortgage fraud and grand theft of that amount from the mortgage lender.
Any person who falsifies a signature with the intent to deceive is a criminal and needs to be prosecuted. Also, if anybody ever tries to say that the signature is NOT a forgery, that you actually signed the document, the police report will show you reported the crime at the earliest possible moment which is evidence that you are telling the truth.
Step Three: Consult a lawyer.
Forgery creates complicated issues that a lawyer can work through with you, so if you are a victim of forgery, I recommend you seek legal advice from a litigator. Before you do, make sure you are prepared. Bring a copy of the forgery, and if possible, be able to explain why the fraudster committed the crime of forgery and what they expected to gain from the deceit.
Also, be completely honest with your lawyer. If you think you did something wrong, everything you tell the lawyer is protected by the attorney-client privilege. Even if you don’t end up hiring them, they must take everything you tell them to the grave with them.
Can I sue someone for forging my signature?
I’m about to tell you a very important piece of information that most non-lawyers don’t realize: If the forgery did not cause any provable damage – financial or otherwise – there probably is no reason to sue the fraudster. They are still guilty of a crime, but that’s another issue. The purpose of a civil lawsuit is to recover money damages.
I’m going to tell you something else important: Even if you can prove financial damages, if the fraudster has no assets or income, there probably is no reason to expend your resources on a lawsuit because, even if you get a judgment against the con artist, there would be no way to collect what you are owed.
If someone has forged your signature, you have the right to bring all the resources of the criminal justice system and the civil justice system to bear against the perpetrator.
After you have discovered the forgery, the first step is to prevent the damage from getting worse by notifying the intended recipient of your fraudulent signature. The second step is to notify the police because forgery is a very serious crime. And, the final step is to consult a lawyer. Unwinding the damage caused by a forged signature can be very complicated, and a lawyer can help you figure these things out.