Legalese — Forgery

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I say this sentence from time to time: “Can I forge your name?” I say it to my husband, more often than not when we have been given a check in our joint names and I want to deposit it in our joint bank account and he’s not around to sign the back of it. Of course, by simply asking the question I am negating the criminal aspect and making my signing of his name not forgery.

Let me explain. Forgery, according to the Georgia code, is when a person, “with the intent to defraud…knowingly makes, alters, or possesses any writing…in a fictitious name or in such a manner that the writing as made or altered purports to have been made by another person, at another time, with different provisions, or by authority of one who did not give such authority and utters or delivers such writing.” In plain English, this means that it is only forgery if you 1. intend to trick someone; 2. sign the name of a fictitious person or a person who didn’t give you permission to sign their name; and 3. give the fake signature to someone else.

Therefore, when I sign my husband’s name on the back of a check with his permission, I haven’t committed forgery of any kind. For that matter, even if I don’t ask him, and I deposit the check in his bank account as a favor for him and for his convenience, I still haven’t committed forgery.

If I write a letter of recommendation for a friend on fake letterhead and make up the name of a bank manager who is allegedly writing the recommendation, that would be forgery, but only if I give the letter to anyone for purposes of the recommendation. The same would be true if I used the name of a real bank manager but didn’t tell her I was writing the letter on her behalf. The crime hasn’t been committed, however, if I write the letter, sign it, leave it on the kitchen table for two days, and then think better of it and shred it. Giving the letter to someone – sharing it as if it were from someone else – is an essential element of the crime.

Very often, in my business, someone who needs to sign something is physically not able to sign it in a timely fashion. The wheels of justice turn slowly enough without waiting to deliver original documents, wait for them to be signed, and then physically returned. On a regular basis I send emails and faxes to other attorneys letting them know that they may sign my name “with express permission.” The fact that they are the ones who physically write my name on the document does not make it forgery. I told them they could do it. They aren’t trying to trick anyone.

The same goes for fake names. Last names, especially. You are allowed to use an alias for any purpose that isn’t fraudulent. If you aren’t trying to get away with anything. For example – from time to time I have represented classroom teachers during a divorce. When the new school year starts, rather than have a name switch in the middle of the year, they want to go back to using their maiden names, but are often afraid because their name hasn’t been legally changed yet. There is no reason to be afraid – they aren’t using the name-that-isn’t-legally-theirs-yet because they are trying to trick anyone. They are just trying to make things easier on everyone. It is like a nickname. My son’s name is Jacob. If he signs a note “Jake” “JD” or “your favorite son” as he has from time to time, he hasn’t done anything illegal. Pseudonyms are perfectly legal – you can write a book and publish it under a fake name. You can be Mrs. Mary Smith kindergarten teacher by day and sign autographs as BloodyMary Smoulder the guitarist for the punk band Garbage Can Liners by night. So long as you really are the guitarist and not just pretending to be her.

This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here.

About Lori Duff 352 Articles
Lori is the author of the bestselling collection of humor essays, "Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza" currently available exclusively on Amazon. In order to finance her writing habit, she is a practicing lawyer with Jones & Duff, LLC. She is married to Mike Duff, who is a retired DeKalb County Public Safety Officer, and has two amazing children who make cameo embarrassing appearances in her blog posts and who attend Walton County Public Schools. Her legal column, "Legalese", is meant to de-mystify and humanize the Court system. When asked about her writing, Lori says, "Life is too short not to laugh at every available opportunity. My goal is to make myself laugh -- and hopefully you will laugh along with me."

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