How to write this check in order that it may not be tampered with and "raised" is something that has held the attentions and invited the inventive talents of many people, in and out of business. Even when the best of the chemical papers are used in the bank check the drawer of the paper may have not the slightest protection from "raising" at the hands of an expert. The manner in which the written and figure amounts on the face of the check are placed makes the material alteration of the amount easy beyond question.
For instance, the man who writes with a free, flowing, rounded hand and leaves roomy spaces everywhere between words and figures becomes an easy mark for a forger. This man is called upon to draw his check for $4, even. He takes his check book and in the dollar line writes the word "four" in his rounded hand, simply filling the rest of the lined space with the plain flourish of his pen. Then in the upper corner of the check he writes the attesting figure $4, with a dash after it. That makes it a cinch for an expert check raiser to make it $40 or $400 or $4,000.
Manifestly the only safeguard for such a check as this, even if it be drawn upon chemical paper, is for the drawer to follow close upon the written "four" with the blocking "No-100th" dollars, using the same fraction as closely after the figure "4" in the corner of the check. To leave no possible room after a final written or figure amount on a check is the best possible precaution against raising it. For with many checks the printed warning "Not good if drawn for more than one hundred dollars," is a worthless precaution. In the above example it is so, for the reason that raised as it is the amount still is within the limit. Had the check been drawn in the same style for "six" dollars, it would have been more easily and profitably raised to "sixty." In the same general manner a slovenly "two" may be raised to "twenty," "three" may be "thirty," "five" is made "fifty," "seven" becomes "seventy," "eight" becomes "eighty," and "nine" is transformed into "ninety"—all without erasures and without leaving telltale marks upon a chemical paper.
In this way the average check which is made payable "to bearer" may be a potential menace in a slow course through a dozen hands. While a bank may require the holder of a "bearer" check to indorse his name upon the back, that indorsement means nothing to him. The check is payable to the bearer and the teller must pay it if it appears all right and he is certain of the signature at the bottom.
For the average man who may write his checks at a desk, and who may be willing to observe some system in the writing, perhaps the safest and cheapest protection for his paper is to repeat in red-ink figures the amount for which the check is drawn, placing those figures on the signature line at the bottom in such a manner that the black-ink signature will be woven through the red-ink group. Virtually there is no way of getting around this form of duplicated amount. The red figures show plainly through the signature and cannot be changed without affecting the form and character of the signature itself. To affect a signature in this way is to call attention to the fraud instantly. A man may make a shaky mismove of the pen somewhere in the body of the check, and if it is not too prominent a teller may take a chance and pass it; but he will shy at a signature which isn't what it ought to be—that subtle sixth sense of the old teller prompts him to it before he knows why, and a paying teller is always vigilant.
METHODS OF FORGERS, CHECK AND DRAFT RAISERS
Professional Forgers and Their Methods—Using Engravers and Lithographers—Their Knowledge of Chemicals—Patching Perforated Paper—Difficult Matter to Detect Alterations and Forgeries—Selecting Men for the Work—The Middle Man, Presenter, and Shadow—Methods for Detecting Forgery—Detail Explanation of How Forgers Work—Altering and Raising Checks and Drafts—A Favorite Trick of Forgers—Opening a Bank Account for a Blind—Private Marks on Checks no Safeguard—How a Genuine Signature Is Secured—Bankers Can Protect Themselves—A Forger the Most Dangerous Criminal—Bankers Should Scrutinize Signatures—Sending Photograph with Letter of Advice—How to Secure Protection Against Forgers—Manner in Which Many Banks Have Been Swindled—Points About Raising Checks and Drafts That Should Be Carefully Noted.
A professional forgery band consists of first, a capitalist or backer; second, the actual forger, known among his associates as the "scratcher"; third, the man who acts as confidential agent for the forger, known as the "middle man"; fourth, the man who presents the forged paper at the bank for payment, known as the "layer down" or presenter.
When it is necessary to have a capitalist or backer connected with a band he furnishes the funds for the organization, frequently lays out the plans for work and obtains the genuine paper from which forgeries are made. He will, when necessary, find the engraver, the lithographer and most important of all, the "professional forger," who will do the actual forgery work.
The professional forger has, as a rule, considerable knowledge of chemicals, which enables him to alter checks, drafts, bills of exchange, letters of credit, or to change the names on registered bonds. He is something of an artist, too, for with a fine camel's hair brush he can restore the most delicate tints in bank safety paper, which tints have been destroyed by the use of acids. In fact no bank safety paper is a protection against him.
When the amount of the genuine draft or check is perforated in the paper, certain forgers have reached such perfection in their work as to enable them to cut out the perforation, put in a patch about the same as a shoemaker does with a shoe and then skilfully color the patch to agree with the original, so that it becomes a very difficult matter to detect the alterations even with the use of a microscope. This done and the writing cleaned off the face of the draft, check, letter of credit, or bill of exchange, with only the genuine signature left and the tints on the paper restored, the forger is prepared to fill up the paper for any amount decided upon.
The backer or capitalist is rarely known to any member of the band outside the "go-between," whom he makes use of to find the forger. He very rarely allows himself to become known to the men who "present" the forged paper at the banks. If the forgery scheme is successful, the backer receives back the money paid out for the preparation of the work as well as any amount he may have lent the "band" to enable them to open accounts at banks where they propose placing the forged paper. He is also allowed a certain percentage on all successful forgeries, this percentage running from 20 to 30 per cent; but where the backer and forger are working together, their joint percentage is never less than 50 per cent.
It is an invariable rule followed by the backer and forger that in selecting a middle man they select one who not only has the reputation of being a "stanch" man, but he must also be a man who has at least one record of conviction standing against him. This is for the additional protection of the backer and forger, as they know that in law the testimony of an accomplice who is also a former convict must be strongly corroborated to be believed.
Out of their first successful forgeries a certain sum from each man's share is held by the middle man to be used in the defense of any member of the band who may be arrested on the trip. This money is called "fall money" and is used to employ counsel for the men under arrest or to do anything for them that may be for their interest.
When a "middle man" is exceedingly cautious and not entirely satisfied with the "presenters" he will sometimes have an assistant. This is where the "shadow" comes in. This shadow will under the direction of the "middle man" follow the "presenter" into the bank and report fully on his actions. He sometimes catches the "presenter" in an attempt to swindle his companions by claiming that he did not get the money, but had to get out of the bank in a hurry and leave the check or draft, as the paying teller was suspicious.
A "presenter" caught at this trick is sometimes sent into a bank to present a forged check where the bank has been previously warned of his coming by an anonymous letter. This is done as a punishment for his dishonesty and as a warning to others against treachery.
That the professional forger eventually profits but little by his ill-gotten gains is well illustrated by the fate of the most of them, who end their days in prison.
In the case of a forgery there are a dozen methods for detecting it—in the quality of the ink, in the quality of paper, in microscopic examination of the irregularities in penmanship, in "labored" tracings that show exaggerated tracings, in composite photography, and by a dozen little common-sense observations that scarcely can be controverted.
Some forgeries have been detected by the mere water-mark in the paper. Sittl of Munich is quoted as having had referred to him a possible forgery of a document dated 1868. Holding the paper to the light, he found as a water-mark in it the figure of the eagle of the German Empire—a symbol which had not been adopted at all until after the French war of 1870.
The magnifying glass is depended upon for many disclosures of forgeries. The unduly serrated edges of the ink lines are quickly marked in a forgery, though under certain circumstances a situation may be such as to force a person into this laborious writing; he may be cramped up in bed, writing on a book held in his lap, or he may be in a mental strain that produces it.
There are minds so easily impressed with a sense of responsibility that the writing or signing of any paper important in its bearing on the writer or his property will cause him to disguise his hand to some extent involuntarily, as many persons disguise their features involuntarily when being photographed.
As to signatures especially, attention is called to the "tremor of fraud," which is to be detected by the microscope, and stress is laid upon the necessity of observing just where this tremor falls. If it is in a difficult flourish of the signature and not elsewhere it indicates fraud; or if it be tremulous to the eye, in imitation of the signature of an aged person, a smooth, curved line may be the index of "the difficulty experienced by a good penman in feigning to be a bad one."
The microscope is useful and valuable in determining whether erasures have been made on paper. Also it will discover which of two crossed lines was last written. It may determine whether the ragged edges of the ink lines are those of fraud, illiteracy, or old age.
The practice of forging the names of depositors in banks to checks, drafts, notes, and in fact to all papers representing a money value, has been practiced, probably, since the creation of man. Of course the law recognizes forgery as a serious crime, and everywhere the punishment is severe. In the seventeenth century it was a capital offense in England, and there were more persons executed for that crime than there were for murder. Notwithstanding the rigorous penalty prescribed in every state in the Union, forgery is carried on to an alarming extent, sometimes by trusted employees, as well as professionals.
The raising of checks and drafts is the principal method employed by the men who make a business of defrauding the unwary. The simplest way of explaining the operation of raising a draft or check is as follows:
Two men are necessary for success at any given point, and hence they are not so liable to detection as if a number of confederates were engaged. It is the business of one of these men to enter a bank, and purchase a draft on New York City, for a certain amount of money, usually about fifteen hundred dollars, and a short time after this another draft would be procured from the same bank for a small amount, seldom over ten dollars. These drafts procured, they are handed to the "raiser," or the man who is to alter the paper for their dishonest purposes. In a short time the small draft is raised to be a perfect duplicate of the large one, in every sense of the word, both as regards number, amount, place of presentation, etc.
This work of alteration being fully completed, one of the men would then remove to another city, and forward the "raised" draft to New York, by express, for collection, or else would go to that city himself, and have it cashed through some respectable person. Immediately on receiving the money he would telegraph his companion, in words previously agreed upon, informing him of the successful result of the first move. The other confederate, upon the receipt of this information, would at once go to the bank where the drafts had been procured, and presenting the genuine draft for the large amount of money, would request that the money be refunded, giving as an excuse for not using it, either that he could not be identified in the New York bank, and for that reason could not collect it, or that the business he had procured it for had not been consummated. The bank officials would recognize him as the person who purchased the draft, and would unhesitatingly hand him back the money which he had paid. Of course he would quickly disappear from the locality, never to be seen in it again—and the forgery would not be discovered until, in the due course of ordinary business, when the other draft for the same amount would be returned for payment.
A favorite trick of forgers, and check and draft raisers, who operate on an extensive scale, is for one of them to open an office in a city, and represent himself as a cattle dealer, lumber merchant, or one looking about for favorable real-estate investments. His first move is to open a bank account, and then works to get on friendly terms with the cashier. He always keeps a good balance—sometimes way up in the thousands—and deports himself in such a manner as to lead to the belief that he is a highly honorable gentleman, and the bank officials are led to the belief that he will eventually become a very profitable customer.
Occasionally he has a note, for a small amount to begin with, always first-class, two-name paper, and he never objects—usually insists—in paying a trifle more than the regular discount. At first the bank officials closely examine the paper offered, and of course find that the endorsers are men of high standing, and then their confidence in the "cattle king" is unbounded. Gradually the notes increase in amount, from a thousand to fifteen hundred dollars, and from fifteen hundred to two or three thousand. The notes are promptly paid at maturity. After the confidence of the bank people has been completely gained, the swindler makes a strike for his greatest effort. He comes in the bank in a hurry, presents a sixty-day note, endorsed by first-class men, for a larger amount than he has ever before requested, and it generally happens that he gets the money without the slightest difficulty. Then he has a sudden call to attend to important business elsewhere. When the note or notes mature, it is discovered to be a clever forgery. This has been done time and again, and it is rare that the forger has been apprehended.
The forgery of checks is a common offense. It takes more than one man to successfully perform this operation. The forger himself is known as the "scratcher," or the expert penman of the party. The "middle man" is the fellow who conducts the business negotiations, ostensibly as a merchant, and the "layer-down" is the man who presents the check to the bank and secures the cash. The middle man must have a pleasing address, and be thoroughly posted on the commercial news of the day, and it is requisite that the layer-down be well dressed, quick witted, and possessed of an unlimited amount of polite assurance, a cheek that never pales and an eye that never droops. In selecting a person to fill this important position, the forger prefers to have a man who has, at some time or other, been convicted of crime, so that in case of discovery, and the turning of state's evidence by the layer-down (who is always the man caught) his evidence will not have weight with a jury. The latest mode is for the forger to imitate a private check by the photo-lithographic method, after having obtained a signed check.
The signature, after being photographed, is carefully traced over with ink, and the body of the check is filled up for whatever amount is desired. The maker of the check is requested to identify the person who holds it, and as a general thing he does not wait to see the money paid. The moment his back is turned, the layer-down palms the small check and presents the large one. This way of obtaining money is without the assistance of a middle man. Private marks on a check are no safeguards at all, although a great many merchants believe they can prevent forgery by making certain dots, or seeming slips of the pen, which are known only to the paying teller and themselves. This precaution becomes useless when the forger uses the camera. Safe breakers are often called upon by forgers and asked to secure a sheet of checks out of a checkbook. When this is accomplished a few canceled checks are taken at the same time. These are given to the forger and he fills them up for large amounts, after tracing or copying the signature. The safe burglars receive a percentage on the amount realized. If your safe vault or desk is broken open, where your check-book is kept, carefully count the leaves in your check-book, also your canceled checks. If any are missing, notify the banks, and begin using a different style of check immediately. The sneak thief, while plying his trade, often secures unsigned bonds of some corporation which has put the signed bonds in circulation, leaving the rest unsigned until the next meeting of the directors.
Frequently unsigned bonds are left in the bank vault for safe keeping. These are stolen and sent to the penman or "scratcher." Then a genuine signed bond is purchased, from which the signatures are copied and then forged. The same trick has been played on unsigned bank notes, but on the bank notes almost any name will do, as no person looks at the signature, as long as the note appears genuine.
The ingenuity of a countless army of sharpers is constantly at work in this country, devising plans to obtain funds dishonestly, without work, but, in fact, they often expend more time, skill, and labor in carrying out their nefarious schemes than would serve to earn the sum they finally secure, by honest labor. Every banker must, therefore, be on his guard, and should acquaint himself with the most approved means of detecting and avoiding the most common swindlers. This is just as necessary as it is to lock his books and cash in his safe before going home.
Next to the counterfeiter, the forger is the most dangerous criminal in business life. Transactions involving the largest sums of money are completed on the faith in the genuineness of a signature. Hence every effort should be made to acquire the art of detecting an imitation at a glance. This can be done only by considerable practice. It is asserted that every signature has character about it which cannot be perfectly copied, and which can always be detected by an experienced eye. This is problematical, but certainly a skilful bank teller can hardly be deceived by the forgery of a name of a well-known depositor.
A banker should accustom himself to scrutinize closely the signatures of those with whom he deals. He should cut off their names from the backs of checks and notes, and paste them in alphabetical order in an autograph book devoted to that purpose, and compare any suspicious signature with the genuine one.
In consequence of the numerous frauds committed by forged checks, some of the European bankers have adopted the custom of sending with their letter of advice a photograph of the person in whose favor the credit has been issued, and to stop the payment when the person who presents himself at the bank does not resemble the picture. If this practice were to become universal, the object of preventing frauds could be well attained.
Instead of the signature being forged, the amount of a check, etc., may be altered. This is done either by changing the letters and figures, or by the use of an erasive fluid. The perfection with which the latter alteration can be performed is so complete that the most skilful eye cannot detect the imposture. A person may deposit a hundred dollars with a house in New York, and obtain their draft for that amount on Philadelphia; he then alters the one hundred to one thousand by erasing a portion of the letters and figures and cashes the draft at a broker's. The latter recognizes the signature, and has no suspicion of the fraud until too late.
The means to secure entire protection against this is by using an ink which cannot be erased by chemicals, or at least such chemicals as are familiarly known to the class of criminals who make this a specialty. Every well-regulated bank now uses a machine for punching or perforating a series of small holes in the check, so that any increase or decrease of the number of letters written is immediately detected.
Many banks have been swindled in the following manner: A check, say for ten dollars, is obtained from a depositor of a bank, and a blank check exactly like the filled-in check is secured. The two checks are laid one upon the other, so that the edges are exactly even. Both checks are then torn irregularly across, and in such a way that the signature on the filled check appears on one piece and the amount and name of the payee on the other. The checks having been held together while being torn, of course one piece of blank check will exactly fit the other piece of the filled check. The swindler then fills in one piece of the blank check with the name of the payee and an amount to suit himself, takes it with the piece of the genuine check containing the signature to the bank, and explains that the check was accidently torn. The teller can put the pieces together, and as they will fit exactly, the chances are that he will think that the pieces are parts of the same check, and becomes a victim of the swindle. The trick, of course, suggests its own remedy.
It is a well-known fact that there are banks in the country that have paid thousands of dollars on raised checks, and decided that it was cheaper for them to pocket the loss than to have the facts become known.
The New York Court of Appeals holds that the maker of a check is obliged to use all due diligence in protecting it, and the omission to use the most effectual protection against alterations is regarded as an evidence of neglect.
Here are a few points about raising checks and drafts that should be carefully noted: To successfully raise a check or draft requires so much less skill or art than to accomplish a forgery that it has of late become alarmingly prevalent. Often where a check or draft is printed on ordinary paper the original figures are removed by some chemical process so skilfully that no alteration can be detected, even with a strong magnifying glass.
It is not uncommon, when filling up checks or drafts, to take another pen, and with red ink write the amount across the face of the paper, and again make the figures in and through the signature. All these precautions may make tampering with the amount more difficult for a clumsy novice, but it only imposes a few moments' more work upon the accomplished manipulator. He takes his strong solution of chloride of lime and rain water, or other prepared chemicals, and with a pen suited to the purpose, by neutralizing and abstracting the coloring properties of the ink, he carefully obliterates such portions of the lines in the figures and written amounts as suits his purpose, then easily makes the alteration he desires, the red ink coming out as readily as black. And if the tint or coloring of the paper should have been affected by his cautious touch, he takes the proper shade of crayon or water-color, and carefully replaces the original shade.
Now, the signature not being touched, but remaining genuine, and the payer not being supposed to know who wrote the check, but only who signed it, he pays the amount specified, and the law holds the "maker of the check responsible when there is nothing in its appearance to excite suspicion, and the signature is proven genuine."
THE HANDWRITING EXPERT
No Law Regulating Experience and Skill Necessary to Constitute An Expert—Experts Held Competent to Testify in Court—Bank Officials and Employes Favored—An Expert On Signatures—Methods Experts Employ to Identify the Work of the Pen—Where and When an Expert's Services Are Needed—Large Field and Growing Demand for Experts—Qualifications of a Handwriting Expert—How the Work Is Done—A Good Expert Continuously Employed—The Expert and the Charlatan—Qualifying as an Expert—A System Which Produces Results—Principal Tests Applied by Handwriting Experts to Determine Genuineness—Identification of Individual by His Handwriting—How to Tell Kind of Ink and Process Used to Forge a Writing—Rules Followed by Experts in Determining Cases—The Testimony of a Handwriting Expert—Explaining Methods Employed to Detect Forged Handwriting—The Courts and Experts—What an Expert May Testify to—Trapping a Witness—Proving Handwriting by Experts—General Laws Regulating Experts—The Base Work of a Handwriting Expert—Important Facts an Expert Begins Examination With—A Few Words of Advice and Suggestion About "Pen Scope"—Detection of Forgery Easy If Rules Suggested Are Observed—Expert Witnesses, Courts, and Jurors.
There is no rule of law fixing the precise amount of experience or degree of skill necessary to constitute a handwriting expert. The witness need not be engaged in any particular business or claim to be a professional expert. He must, however, claim to have experience. With that limitation, cashiers, paying tellers, other bank officers, attorneys, bookkeepers, business men, conveyancers, county officials, photographers, treasurers and clerks of railroads, etc., and writing teachers have in various cases been held competent to testify as an expert. And it has been held that experience with handwriting generally or specially will enable the witness to testify specially or generally thereto. Bank officials, and especially cashiers, tellers, and book-keepers, are usually regarded as competent by most courts to pass authoritatively upon handwriting.
Generally speaking, the witness must claim to be an expert, or at least show that he had the means of gaining experience. He need not claim to be an expert, but he must claim to have had such experience as will make him feel competent to express an opinion.
He may always give the reasons for his opinion, but he must confine his testimony to his opinion based on the handwriting itself, and not as affected by the facts of the case. He cannot state any inferences deduced from the facts. He must also testify himself. Evidence of what an expert has said with reference to a writing is inadmissible for the purpose of bringing that opinion before the court.
An expert may be tested with other papers in the case, but not with irrelevant papers, and the whole of the test paper must be shown him. He is entitled to see it all.
Letter-press copies and duplicates made by writing machines are not originals and therefore cannot be used as a standard of comparison.
An expert cannot give an opinion as to the genuineness of a signature based upon a comparison thereof with signatures not before the court.
The standard of comparison used by the expert must be produced in court. Photographic copies are admissible when accompanied by the originals. When original writings are in evidence and the genuineness thereof disputed, magnified photographic copies of the writing and of admitted genuine writings are admissible in evidence, for comparison by jury or expert when accompanied by competent preliminary proof that the copies are accurate in all respects except as to size and color.
The services of the expert are required in a wide range of civil and criminal cases. Where handwriting is questioned on notes, checks, drafts, receipts, wills, deeds, mortgages, bonds, anonymous letters, money orders, registered letter receipts, letters, pension papers, and in smuggling, and in short, on any kind of document where it becomes necessary to establish the identity of the writer, the expert is called in. Life, liberty, honor, and property are frequently balanced on a pen point—a few marks of the pen being the determining feature of many a case.
The handwriting of the schoolboy and schoolgirl, though crude, is conventional and idealized. It has but few characteristics so long as the school model or copy-book hand is the goal. The pupil gives constant attention to the handwriting as well as to the thought. A number of students of about the same grade, under the same teacher, will write much alike. Fifteen or twenty of these students could each write a line on a page and it might baffle a layman, and perhaps puzzle an expert, to tell whether or not more than one person wrote the page. This constant striving after one ideal, and putting thought on the handwriting, had drawn them all toward that ideal and away from individuality.
The employment of professional handwriting experts as witnesses in court cases that often involve enormous sums of money, or the liberty or even the lives of suspected malefactors, has awakened widespread interest in the methods of this class of experts, their resources and capabilities in conserving the ends of justice.
Many uninformed people appear to look on the handwriting expert as one who, by intuition or the possession of some mysterious occult power, is enabled to distinguish at a glance the true and the spurious in any questioned handwriting. Nothing could be further from the fact.
The secret of his power—as in any other line of scientific research—lies wholly in his intimate familiarity with the innumerable physical details which comprise the written line or word or letter—sometimes so slight a matter as the dotting of an i or the placing of a comma. It is precisely the same specialized sense, born of acute observation and minute scrutiny that enables an expert chemist to take two powders of like weight and color, identical in appearance to the common eye and perhaps in taste to the common palate, and say: This drug is harmless, wholesome; that is a deadly poison—and to specify not only their various individual constituents but the exact proportion of each. The trained eye of the handwriting expert (as in another case could that of the expert chemist) can often detect at a glance certain distinguishing earmarks of submitted writing that enable him to fix the identity of the writer almost off-hand. In the the great majority of cases, however, the cunning of the forger calls for deliberate, painstaking study and investigation before the conscientious expert is willing to announce with absolute surety an opinion so often fraught with tremendous possibilities for good or for evil.
Nothing else that a person does is so characteristic as the handwriting, and the identification of the individual can be established by it better than by portraits or almost any other means. As lawyers and laymen and courts are finding this out, the handwriting expert is more and more called upon to untangle snarled questions and to right wrongs.
It is only when attention is directed to this interesting science by the wide publicity given to some great case in which handwriting plays an important part that the notice of the general public is drawn to it. The average person would be surprised to know of the great number of cases that find their way to the office of the handwriting expert. The man who has made a success in this line is constantly in demand, and makes frequent trips to distant points to appear as witness in courts.
Though nearly every large town has some one who devotes some attention to handwriting, there are but five or six men in this country who give to it practically all of their time, and who have gone very deeply into the subject.
To allow any person to qualify as an "expert" and to testify as such is a matter wholly within the discretion of the court. Unfortunately, courts frequently are lax in determining this question. Almost any one who can write is permitted to give alleged "expert" testimony regarding handwriting. In one well-known case, a case, too, involving life and death—the court unwittingly accepted the "expert" testimony of a witness who, it was afterward proven, was unable to write even so much as his own name. In the litigation attending the disposal of large mining interests held at Butte, Montana, the court permitted testimony in regard to the handwriting of the testator from a witness who admitted that he had seen the testator write but once, and that in lead pencil over twenty years before.
Any one accustomed to writing is usually allowed to qualify as an "expert." To the lay mind it is natural to confound experts who have studied the subject deeply in all its various phases with those who have had occasion to examine it casually, or who may possess uncommon facility with the pen without ever having had occasion to investigate scientifically just those little illusive points upon which the professional expert places his reliance.
Hence, when we read of "experts" being mistaken, or of an equal number of them appearing on opposite sides of the same case, it will nearly always be found upon investigation that they are of the class described above, whose lack of thorough special training and specialized experience really should have disqualified them from giving testimony. Though any one may call himself an "expert," or a "professional expert," for that matter, thus opening the door to charlatanism in exactly the same manner that it is opened more or less in all vocations, yet, as a matter of fact, it is very rare that professional handwriting experts testify to a contrary state of facts, and the cases in which they have been proven mistaken are remarkably few.
Experts who have a natural aptitude coupled with experience that produces skill are able, by a system which they have reduced to a science, to detect the spurious from the genuine handwriting with almost unvarying success. But their conclusions are not reached by second sight or sleight-of-hand methods, but rather by painstaking, scientific investigation.
Some of the principal tests applied to determine the genuineness of handwriting are these: The actual and relative slant of the letters or the angles between their stems and the base; the constancy and accuracy with which a straight line is followed as a base; the amount of pressure used on the pen and the part of the stroke where it is applied, and the positions of the line as a whole relative to the edges of the paper. The simplest punctuation mark under the microscope has its own individuality. It would be difficult to find two writers whose semicolons and quotation marks cannot be distinguished at a glance. The dotting of the i and crossing of the t afford an infinite number of relations between points and lines, and in both of these the time element and the freedom of muscular movement play important parts. Even the health and self-control of the penman, as well as the physical circumstances, show their influence on these little strokes.
The identification of the individual by means of his handwriting is of great value in legal trials and outside of courts. Its use cannot be dispensed with any more than can the knowledge obtained in any other line of science.
One often hears a man boast of his ability to successfully duplicate another person's signature or handwriting, and to the casual observer the counterfeit really will bear a striking resemblance to the original. However, let the two be placed in the hands of an expert on disputed handwriting and he will pretty quickly determine which is the original and which the forgery. Furthermore, he will tell you what process was used to make the duplicate, for there are several methods in use among forgers, and can even tell the composition of the ink.
In the determination of any handwriting there is no actual rule to guide an expert, as each case must be a law unto itself. The time of day that the signature was made and the condition for the moment of the individual have considerable bearing on the case, as has also the writer's general physical condition. Whether he was standing or sitting when the signature was made is a matter of importance. The quality of the paper and the make of the pen also have to be taken into consideration. In the case of forgery, where the forger has employed a finger movement writing with the muscles and apparently without education, there is scarcely any difficulty in arriving at a conclusion. The long flowing hand is easy to detect. When, however, the writing is finical a large mass of material has to be examined before a decision can be reached.
The testimony of an expert is without doubt the most dangerous kind of evidence when not supported by additional testimony; but, on the other hand, if the known facts fit in well, it is the strongest kind of testimony that can be submitted, and is usually known as "opinioned evidence." There probably is no class of professional witnesses which is subjected to such severe cross-examination as experts in handwriting, and, considering the great importance of their testimony, they should be ever ready and willing to explain the methods employed by them in arriving at their decision, which, of course, is the result of a comparison of the analyses of several pieces of writing, taking account of all exaggerations, idiosyncrasies and unusual peculiarities.
All evidence of handwriting, except where the witness has seen the writing in question written, is derived from four sources: First, from comparison; second, from the internal evidence of the writing itself; third, from the knowledge of the writing, from having frequently seen a person write; fourth, where one has received letters whose authorship has been subsequently verified by admission, or acted upon in such manner as to receive the approval of the writer. Comparison is made between the writing in question and other writing admitted by the writer to be genuine, or otherwise proved to be so to the satisfaction of the court.
The evidence adduced from comparison is more or less certain according to the skill of the expert and the circumstances of the case. Internal evidence is such as is presented by the peculiar quality of lines when drawn or worked up by slowly following traced lines, retouched shades, rubbered surface of the paper, and every indication of an artificial or mechanical process of producing writing.
Testimony based upon a knowledge of writing gained from having at some time seen a person write is the most fallacious of all testimony respecting handwriting; it can be only a mental comparison of writing in question with such a vague idea or mental picture as may remain from a casual view of the writing at some time more or less remote; and besides, one may perceive another in the act of writing and yet have little or no opportunity of forming any mental conception of it, even at the time of writing.
In some cases where the courts will permit it the expert witness may fully explain upon what he bases his opinion but it oftener occurs that the trial judge will limit the evidence down to the very narrow scope and the mere relation of such facts as the jury can see. Where a forgery is well executed the difference in general appearance between it and the genuine writing of the person whose signature is questioned, when compared, is very small. The limit put upon expert evidence by the trial judge takes from the effect of the testimony all the benefit of an explanation of the facts upon which the opinion is founded.
Juries are generally allowed to examine enlarged photographs of the writing, and sometimes to see it under the microscope, but even when so doing what they see unexplained cannot be appreciated intelligently and unless taken for granted as meaning something which the experience of the expert who gives the opinion understands, and which they without such an education, could not be expected to understand that which the photographs show and the microscope makes visible is just as likely to be misleading as otherwise.
An expert may testify as to the characteristics of the handwriting in question; as to whether the writing is natural or feigned, or was or was not written at the same time, with the same pen and ink, and by the same person, and as to alterations or erasures therein; and as to the age of the writing and obscurities therein; the result of his examination of the writing under a magnifying glass; and to prove in some cases the standard of comparison.
In the United States a witness may be asked to write on cross-examination, but not in direct.
Before a paper can be accepted as a standard of comparison it must be proved to be genuine to the satisfaction of the judge. His decision on this question is final if supported by proper evidence. In some states the question of genuineness is for the jury.
A party denying his handwriting may be asked on cross-examination, if his signature to another instrument is genuine. This is the test which may be successfully applied to ascertain if the signature is genuine. A plaintiff, on one occasion, denied most positively that a receipt produced was in his handwriting. It was thus worded, "Received the Hole of the above." On being asked to write a sentence in which the word "whole" was introduced, he took evident pains to disguise his handwriting, but he adopted the phonetic style of spelling, and also persisted in using the capital H.
The practice of thus testing a witness is vindicated by one of the most sagacious of German jurists, Mittermaier, on grounds not only of expediency, but of authority.
Comparison of handwriting, either by jury or witness, is uniformly allowed to prove writings which are not old enough to prove themselves, but are too old to admit of direct proof of their genuineness.
Handwriting, considered under the law of evidence, includes not only the ordinary writing of one able to write, but also writing done in a disguised hand, or in cipher, and a mark made by one able or unable to write.
The principles regulating the proof of handwriting apply equally to civil and criminal cases.
The paper the handwriting of which is sought to be proved by experts must ordinarily be produced in court, but such production will be excused when the paper has been lost or destroyed and when it is a public record, which cannot be brought into court.
Genuineness may be proved in all cases, except where paper is required to be identified by an official seal, and except as controlled by law applicable to attested instruments.
It may be proved by his own admissions; by witnesses who saw the party write; by witnesses who corresponded with the party; by witnesses who had seen papers acknowledged by the party; by witnesses having personal relations with the party.
Comparison of handwriting, technically called presumptio ex scripto nunv viso, is where a paper or papers are proved or admitted to be in a party's handwriting, and a witness entirely unacquainted with the party's handwriting, or the jury, is allowed to make a comparison by juxtaposition of the writing so proved or admitted, and the writing disputed.
All evidence of handwriting, except where the witness sees the documents written, is in its nature comparison. It is the belief which a witness entertains upon comparing the writing in question with an exemplar in his mind derived from some previous writing.
In all the states of the Union the laws are uniform on the proposition that experts may testify as to comparisons made and the results based on such comparisons, except that the paper admitted to be genuine shall not contain matter of a frivolous nature, etc.
In a broad, general way the element of common sense is the basework of an expert's success in the business. He cannot depend upon anything suggesting intuition. Where two signatures or two specimens of writing are in question and one exhibit is a forgery and the other is genuine, or where both are genuine, yet in question, the expert is in the position of making his proofs and demonstrations convincing to the layman—the hard headed citizen who insists that "you show me." Frequently this citizen is on a jury where he has had to admit that he is not particularly intelligent before he would be accepted for the place.
As a first proposition to such a man, however, the expert in chirography may put him to the proof that out of a dozen signatures of his own name no two will be alike in general form. Then he may turn to the authentic and forged signatures in almost any case and show to the layman that the first question of forgery arose from the fact that these two signatures at a first glance are identically alike to almost the minutest detail. With all the skill which the forger has put into his crooked work, he keeps to the old principle of copying the authentic signature which he has in hand, and the more nearly he can reproduce this signature in every proportion the more readily the forgery can be proved.
One of the most important facts from which the expert may begin his investigations of possible forgery is that every man using a pen in writing has his "pen scope." This technical term describes the average stretch of paper which a man may cover without lifting the pen from the paper and shifting his hand to continue the line. In even the freest, swinging movements of a pen where the hand follows the pen fingers, there are occasional breaks in the lettering or undue stretch of space between the words which will indicate a characteristic scope of the pen if the specimens under investigation cover an ordinary paragraph in length.
As applied to the signatures of the ordinary individual, this pen scope will appear in some form in the signature. The writer may lift his pen before he has spelled out a long Christian or surname, he may indicate it in the placing of a middle initial or in the space which lies between the initial and the last name. In the case of the signature of one's name, too, it should be one of the easiest and lest-studied group of words which he is called on to put upon paper. In writing a letter, for example, the pen scope through it may show an average stretch of one inch for the text of the letter, while in the signature the whole length of the signature twice as long, may be covered. But if the writer covers this full stretch of his name in this way the expert may prove by the necessary short pen scope of the copyist that the studied copy is a forgery on its face. For however free of pen stroke the forger may be naturally, his attempts to produce a facsimile of the signature shortens it beyond the scope of the original signer.
If a search be made through a series of undisputedly genuine signatures, it will be found that one characteristic fails in one and another in another. Here is where the handwriting expert makes his service valuable. He studies all these important points, and is not long in arriving at a successful conclusion.
The introduction of the experimental method into all modern investigation has led to the hope that in this difficult subject means will be found to introduce simpler forms of determining regular or irregular handwriting.
As long as the steps by which experts reach their conclusions are so intricate or recondite that only the results may be stated to the jury, just so long will the character of expert testimony suffer in the opinion of the public, and the insulting charge against it be repeated that any side can hire an expert to support its case.
If a single competent expert could be selected by the court to take up questions of this kind and lay his results before it, the present system would be less objectionable than it is. Nevertheless, this solution is probably not the best, because no man is capable of always observing and judging correctly, and the most careful man may be led astray by elements in the problem before him of which he does not suspect the existence. It would seem, therefore, to be fairer and less open to objection if a plan of investigation were followed which can be clearly explained to those who are to decide a case and the resulting data left in their hands to assist them in their decision.
In such a manner of presentation, if any important data have been omitted, or if the premises do not warrant the conclusion, the errors can be detected without accusing the expert of lack of good faith or ignorance of his subject. The fact that he has testified in hundreds of cases and in every court in the world should not be allowed to influence the jury against a logical conclusion drawn from uncontroverted facts.
HOW TO DETECT FORGED HANDWRITING
Frequency of Litigation Arising Over Disputed Handwriting—Forged and Fictitious Claims Against the Estates of Deceased People—Forgery Certain to Be Detected When Subjected to Skilled Expert Examination—A Forger's Tracks Cannot Be Successfully Covered—With Modern Devices Fraudulent, Forged and Simulated Writing Can Be Determined beyond the Possibility of a Mistake—Bank Officials and Disputed Handwriting—How to Test and Determine Genuine and Forged Signatures—Useful Information About Signature Writing—Guard Against An Illegible Signature—Avoid Gyrations, Whirls and Flourishes—Write Plain, Distinct and Legible—The Signature to Adopt—The People Forgers Pass By—How to Imitate Successfully—How an Expert Detects Forged Handwriting—Examples of Signatures Forgers Desire to Imitate—Examining and Determining a Forgery—Comparisons of Disputed Handwriting—Microscopic Examinations a Great Help in Detecting Forged Handwriting—Comparison of Forged Handwriting.
Few persons outside of the banking and legal fraternity are aware of the frequency with which litigations arise from one or another of the many phases of disputed handwriting; doubtless most frequently from that of signatures to the various forms of commercial obligations or other instruments conveying title to property, such as notes, checks, drafts, deeds, wills, etc. To a less extent the disputed portions involve alterations of books of account and other writings, by erasure, addition, interlineation, etc., while sometimes the trouble comes in the form of disguised or simulated writings. A disproportionately large number of these cases arise from forged and fictitious claims against the estates of deceased people. This results, first, from the fact that such claims are more easily established, as there is usually no one by whom they can be directly contradicted; and, secondly, for the reason that administrators are less liable to exercise the highest degree of caution than are persons who pay out their own money.
In all instances where a forgery extends to the manufacturing of any considerable piece of writing, it is certain of being detected and demonstrated when subjected to a skilled expert examination; but where forgery is confined to a single signature, and that perhaps of such a character as to be easily simulated, detection is ofttimes difficult, and expert demonstrations less certain or convincing. Yet instances are rare in which the forger of even a signature does not leave some unconscious traces that will betray him to the ordinary expert, while in most instances forgery will be at once so apparent to an expert as to admit of a demonstration more trustworthy and convincing to court and jury than is the testimony of witnesses to alleged facts, who may be deceived, or even lie. The unconscious tracks of the forger, however, cannot be bribed or made to lie, and they often speak in a language so unmistakable as to utterly defy controversion.
Note illustrations of forged handwriting in Appendix at end of this book.
With the present-day knowledge of writing in its various phases, the identity of forged, fraudulent or simulated writing can be determined beyond the possibility of a mistake. Every year sees an increase in the number of important civil and criminal cases that turn on questions of disputed handwriting.
There is not a day in the year but what bank officials are at sea over a disputed signature and a knowledge of how to test and determine genuine and forged signatures will prove of inestimable value to the banking and business world.
Forgery is easy. Detection is difficult. As the rewards for the successful forgers are great, thousands upon thousands of forged checks, notes, drafts, wills, deeds, receipts and all kinds of commercial papers are produced in the United States every year. Many are litigated, but many more are never discovered.
Practical and useful information about signature writing and how to safeguard one's signature against forgery is something that will be welcomed by those who are constantly attaching their names to valuable papers.
Every man should guard against an illegible signature—for example, a series of meaningless pen tracks with outlandish flourishes, such as are assumed by many people with the feeling that because no one can read them, they cannot be successfully imitated. Experience has demonstrated that the easiest signatures to successfully forge are those that are illegible, either from design or accident. The banker or business man who sends his pen through a series of gyrations, whirls, flourishes and twists and calls it a signature is making it easy for a forger to reproduce his signature, for it is a jumble of letters and ink absolutely illegible and easy of simulation. Every man should learn to write plain, distinct and legible.
The only signature to adopt is one that is perfectly legible, clear and written rapidly with the forearm or muscular movement. One of the best preventatives of forgery is to write the initials of the name—that is, write them in combination—without lifting the pen. It will help if the small letters are all connected with each other and with the capitals. Select a style of capital letters and always use them; study out a plain combination of them; practice writing until it can be written easily and rapidly and stick to it. Don't confuse your banker by changing the form of a letter or adding flourishes. Countless repetitions will give a facility in writing it that will lend a grace and charm and will stamp it with your peculiar characteristics in such a way that the forger will pass you by when looking for an "easy mark." Plain signatures of the character noted above are not the ones usually selected by forgers for simulation. Forgers are always hunting for the illegible as in it they can best hide their identity.
It is said to be an utter impossibility for one person to imitate successfully a page of writing of another. The person attempting the forgery should be able to accomplish the following: First, he must know all the characteristics of his own hand; second, he must be able to kill all the characteristics of his own hand; third, he must know all of the characteristics in the hand he is imitating; fourth, he must be able to assume characteristics of the other's hand at will. These four points are insuperable obstacles, and the forger does not live who has surmounted or can surmount them.
To understand the principles on which an expert in handwriting bases his work, consider for a moment how a person's style of writing is developed. He begins by copying the forms set for him by a teacher. He approximates more or less closely to these forms. His handwriting is set, formal, and without character. As soon as he leaves off following the copy book, however, his writing begins to take on individual characteristics. These are for the most part unconscious. He thinks of what he is writing, not how. In time these peculiarities, which creep gradually into a man's writing, become fixed habits. By the time he is, say, twenty-five years old, his writing is settled. After that it may vary, may grow better or worse, but is certain to retain those distinguishing marks which, in the man himself, we call personality. This personality remains. He cannot disguise it, except in a superficial way, any more than he can change his own character.
It follows that no two persons write exactly the same hands. It is easy to illustrate this. Suppose, for example, that among 10,000 persons there is one hunchback, one minus his right leg, one with an eye missing, one bereft of a left arm, one with a broken nose. To find a person with two of these would require, probably, 100,000 people; three of them, 1,000,000; four of them, 100,000,000. One possessing all of them might not be found in the entire 14,000,000,000 people on earth. Precisely the same with different handwritings—the peculiar and distinguishing characteristics of one would no more be present in others than would the personal counterparts of the authors be found in other individuals.
It is more surprising, at first thought, to be told that no person ever signs his name even twice alike. Of course, theoretically, it cannot be said that it is impossible for a person to write his name twice in exactly the same manner. A person casting dice might throw double aces a hundred times consecutively. But who would not act on the practical certainty that the dice were loaded long before the hundredth throw was reached in such a case? The same reasoning applies to the matter of handwriting with added force, because the chance of two signatures being exactly alike is incomparably less than the chance of the supposed throws of the dice.
Probably many persons will not believe that it is impossible for them to write their own name twice alike. For them it will be an interesting experiment to repeat their signatures, say, a hundred times, writing them on various occasions and under different circumstances, and then to compare the result. It is safe to say that they will hardly find two of these which do not present some differences, even to their eyes, and under the examination of a trained observer aided by the microscope, these divergencies stand out tenfold more plainly.
Many cases of forgery hinge on this point, the forger having copied another person's signature by tracing one in his possession, but such attempts are always more easy to detect than those in which the forger carefully imitates another's hand. The latter is the usual procedure. The forger secures examples of the signature or writing which he desires to imitate. Then he practices on it, trying to reproduce all its striking peculiarities. In this way he sometimes arrives at a resemblance so close as to deceive even his victim. Still there is always present some internal evidence to prove that the writing is not the work of the person to whom it is attributed. Likewise it will reveal the identity of the person who actully wrote it, if specimens of his natural hand are to be had for comparison.
It is impossible for a man to carry in his mind and to reproduce on paper all the peculiar characteristics of another man's writing and at the same time to conceal all his own. At some point there is certain to come a slip when the habit of years asserts itself and gives the testimony which may fix the whole production on the forger beyond the shadow of a doubt.
The little things are the ones that count most in making examination and determining a forgery for the reason that they are no less characteristic than the more prominent peculiarities and are more likely to be overlooked by the person who tries to disguise his hand. The crossing of t's and the dotting of i's become matters of large moment in making comparisons of disputed handwritings. There is probably no matter in conjunction with a man's ordinary writing to which he gives less thought than the way he makes these crosses and dots. For that reason they are in the highest degree characteristic. And it is precisely because of their apparently slight importance that the person who sets out to imitate another's handwriting or to disguise his own is likely to be careless about these little marks and to make slips which will be sufficient to prove his identity.
Imitations of signatures are usually written in a laborious and painstaking manner. They are, therefore, decidedly unlike a man's natural signature, which is usually written in an easy fashion. The imitations show frequent pauses, irregularities in pen pressure and in the distribution of ink, and contain other evidences of hesitation. Not infrequently the forger tries to improve on his work by retouching some of the letters after he has completed a word. Microscopic examination brings out all of these things and makes them tell-tale witnesses.
Comparison of handwriting is competent but is not itself conclusive evidence of forgery. Identification of handwriting is, if possible, more difficult than identification of the person which so often forms the chief difficulty in criminal trials. As illness, strange dress, unusual attitude, and the like, cause mistakes in identifying the individual, so a bad pen or rough paper, a shaky hand and many other things change the appearance of a person's handwriting.
This kind of evidence ought never, therefore, to be regarded as full proof in trials where a handwriting is in dispute. Generally the best witness in a handwriting case is one who often sees the party write, through whose hands his writing has been continually passing, and whose opinion is not the result of an inspection made on a particular occasion for a special purpose.
GREATEST DANGER TO BANKS
Check-Raising Always a Danger—A Scheme Almost Impossible to Prevent—The American Bankers' Association the Greatest Foe to Forgers—It Follows Them Relentlessly and Successfully—Chemically Prepared Paper and Watermarks Not Always a Safeguard—Perforating Machines and Check Raisers—How Check Perforations Are Overcome—How an Ordinary Check Is Raised—How an Expert Alters Checks—How Perforations Are Filled—Hasty Examination by Paying Tellers Encourages Forgers—The Way Bogus Checks Creep Through a Bank Unnoticed—A Celebrated Forgery Case—Forgers Successful for a Time Always Caught—Where Forgers Usually Go That Have Made a Big Haul—A Professional Crook Is a Person of Large Acquaintance.
Raising checks has become the greatest danger to the banks. There is no comparison between raising checks with a genuine signature and forging the signature itself, so far as ease of execution is concerned. After many years of arduous work and after great expenditures of money the banks have to admit sorrowfully that if a man wants to raise a check he can do it; and the detection, while, of course, inevitable when the paid check returns to the depositor, is not immediate enough to prevent the swindler from getting away with the money.
That is why the most implacable enemy of the men who dare raise or falsify a check is the American Bankers' Association. This great concern in reality is a protective association, and it relentlessly hunts down all forgers first, last, and all the time. It never lets up, absolutely never, no matter time, money, or trouble. It bitterly pursues defaulters for the sake of justice, but it has still another object in its deadly trailing of forgers and check tampereus. That is because the whole banking structure hangs on signed paper. When it can be altered with impunity, away goes the financial system of to-day. Hence the unrelenting hunting-down of forgers who trifle with men's names. On the books of more than one large detective agency of the country are cases more than ten years old. The forgers never have been found, but the hunt still goes on. Reports of the chase come in regularly and the books will not be closed until the hunt stops at prison doors or beside a grave.
Yet with all this remorseless hunting, check-raising flourishes so well all over the United States that the banks fear to give even a hint as to the sums of which they or their depositors are robbed each year. The magnitude of the amount would frighten too many persons.
For a time it was thought that the use of chemically prepared paper would prove a safeguard, because any erasure or alteration would show immediately. The chemicals used in its composition would make the ink run if acids were used to change the figures. But among the check-raisers there were chemists just as clever as the chemists who devised the prepared paper.
Then paper with watermarks woven through it was used. But it, too, became an easy mark for the chemists who had gone wrong.
Finally, and until recently, the banking world thought that it had struck the absolute safeguard by using a machine to stamp on the check the exact amount for which it was drawn, the machine perforating the paper as it stamped it. Certainly it does seem that when the paper is cut right out of the check, leaving nothing but holes, no change is humanly possible. But the completeness of this supposed safeguard has offered a tempting field for the check-raiser.
A special detective in the employ of the American Bankers' Association, who has spent half the years of his mature life in running down forgers and check-raisers, said that it was "too easy" to raise checks, and that a good many more men than try it now would do it were it not for the well-known relentlessness of the association in running down offenders against any single one of its constituent members.
"Write me a check for any sum you want," said the sleuth, "and I'll show you."
A check for $200 was written and passed over to him. In less than two minutes, without an erasure of any kind, the check called for $500, and the work was done so well even in that short time that the writer would have been tempted to believe that he had made an error and really drawn the check for that amount had he not been sure to the contrary.
"That kind of raising is easy," said the expert. "You see it demands no interlining or extending of words. The check-raiser simply knows how well certain characters lend themselves to changes that cannot be detected. The capital T in almost every man's handwriting can be changed to a capital F without any trouble by even an unskilled crook."
A check for $2,000 was raised to $50,000 almost in the wink of an eye. "This is the easy and safer part of the business," said he. "But when a check is to be raised from a sum like $10 to, say, $10,000, and the drawer has written it so that there is no room between the word 'ten' and 'dollars,' chemicals must be used. There is always more danger of detection in that. In the mere alteration of a check there is little. Look here. I'll change your checks as fast as you can write them, and I bet a lot of my alterations will pass muster."
A pad was hauled out and the writer filled the sheets out with carefully written amounts. The expert was as good as his word. He altered them almost as fast as they were written. Some, to be sure, were crude and would have betrayed the fact of alteration to the eye of any careful banker. But many were almost perfect, and all were wonderfully deceptive and showed what could be done by a crook who had plenty of time.
"But how about the perforations?" he was asked. "How could a crook change them?"
"Nothing easier," was the reply. "The fact that checks stamped with the amount in perforated characters are considered safe aids the swindler. Really, to beat the perforations is so easy that it will make you smile. All the outfit that is needed is a common little punch with assorted small cutting tubes and a bottle of an invisible glue that every crook can make or that he can buy in certain places that every crook knows. Now, here is a check stamped in perforated characters $300$. I take my little punch and fit into it a cutter that will punch holes of the same size as the holes in the perforations.
"Now I punch out of the edge of the check a few tiny disks. I moisten the tip of a needle and press them carefully into the holes that make the upper part of the figure 3. See, even in my haste and without glue, they fill the perforations completely and I can shake and pull the check without disturbing them."
It was true. The little plugs fitted perfectly, and even with the knowledge that they were there it was almost impossible to see where they had been inserted.
"Now," continued the expert, "I merely take my punch and carefully punch enough holes to the right of the upper part of the figure 3 to make it a 5. And there you are. If I wanted to pass this check through the bank I would only have to complete the job by smearing a drop of the invisible glue over the back where I have plugged the original holes. This glue is wonderfully tenacious and will actually hold the edges of paper together. It needs only the smallest surface in order to get hold. After it is on not even the microscope could detect it readily. And no amount of pulling or shaking of the check will disturb it.
"You may suppose that a check that is stamped this way, for instance—$600$—would be hard to change into one of four figures. But it is almost equally easy. The crook simply punches out enough disks from the edge to fill up the last dollar mark completely, and after he has plugged it and the glue is dry he punches a cipher into the place and then punches a dollar mark after it. Of course, after punching the little disks out of the edge of the check it is necessary to trim that part of the paper, but that is done readily, for checks always have ample margin.
"The check-raiser does not depend on the fact that the scrutiny of checks in a large bank is bound to be hasty, but he knows that he need not fear if his work is at all well done, for the paying teller simply cannot spend much time in examining the many checks that are passed in.
"One New York City bank sends through the clearing-house daily an average of 3,100 checks, and as there are about sixty-five such banks in the clearinghouse the total number of checks handled in the few hours of business in a day is something enormous.
"It is this haste—which, by the way, is absolutely necessary in order to keep the books posted to date—that is responsible for the passing of one of the most peculiar checks that ever came under the notice of the detectives of America. In this case the check was neither falsified nor was the signature forged, but it was bogus just the same.
"It was a check made up of the parts of two checks, and all the implements necessary for falsification were a pair of scissors and that invisible glue. The clever swindler had got hold of two genuine checks from the same bank. One was for $1,000 and the other for $70. Placing these two checks together, one on top of the other, he cut them through neatly with the scissors. Then he pasted that portion bearing the word 'seventy' on the one check to that part bearing the word 'thousand' on the other. So the composite check read to pay to the holder 'seventy thousand' dollars. As the cutting was made through both checks in exactly the same place, the edges fitted perfectly. They were glued together and the check readily passed the bank cashier. The man was caught and made restitution without publicity, but the case gave bankers a shock. Other somewhat similar cases are known, but none involving such a large amount.
"A famous case was the celebrated Seaver fraud. He bought a draft for $12 from the Bank of Woodland (Cal.), and, although it was written on chemical 'safety' paper and perforated in two places with a check punch, he raised it to $12,000, and it was passed successfully and paid.
"But however successful they may be for a time, it is the fatal hoodoo of this 'most gentlemanly' way of making a living without earning it that a forgery is always discovered and the forger generally caught. That is because the forged check remains in existence and must be paid by some one, and sooner or later there will be an outcry. The best the raiser can hope for is to escape before the crime is discovered.
"Once the false check is passed and he has the money, his first idea is as to where he shall hide. Another fatality attaching to his peculiar business is that the same place that he thinks of flying to is the place that suggests itself to the mind of the thief-chaser. In other words, knowing their man, the man-hunters can guess well where to find him.
"If a forger wants to bury himself, he thinks of South America, because it is easy to get there, and apparently out of the world. Then, of South America, he probably only thinks of Venezuela, or closer home—of Guatemala or Panama. So the South American hunt is simplicity itself, as there are not so many large ports that strange Americans can pass through unnoticed.
"If a forger wants to continue in his crooked business he thinks of London, Paris, Berlin, and maybe Vienna. We guess at his calibre and whether he wants more money, and know where he probably will go to get it, for the professional crook has an international acquaintance, and he only goes among friends. So we follow him.
"If a forger is an adventurous spirit and committed the crime on impulse, and we could learn absolutely nothing more about him, we would look in that Mecca of adventurers, South Africa, for him. In fact, our first business is to learn what kind of a man he is, then shut our eyes and guess which one of a few places he will fly to. The guess often is so good that our men await him when the steamer lands there. If not, we don't forget the sailing vessels."
THUMB-PRINTS NEVER FORGED
Thumb-Print Method of Identification Absolute—Now Brought to a High State of Perfection—Will Eventually Be Used in All Banks—Certified Checks and Also Drafts with Thumb-Print Signatures—Absolute Accuracy of a Thumb-Print Identification Assured—A Thumb-Print in Wax on Sealed Packages—Its Use an Advantage on Bankable Paper of All Kinds—How Strangers Are Easily Identified—Bankers, Merchants and Business Men Protected by This System—Full Particulars as to How Thumb-Prints Are Made—Can be Printed by Anyone in a Few Minutes—How and When to Place Your Thumb-Print on Bankable Paper—Finger-Prints as Reliable as Thumb-Prints—Use to Which This System Could Be Put—Thumb and Finger Tips Do Not Change From Birth to Death—Department of Justice at Washington Has Established a Bureau of Criminal Registry Using the Thumb-Print System—Thumb-Print System Said to Be a Chinese Invention—Its Use Spreading Rapidly—How to Secure Thumb-Print Impression Without Knowledge of Party—An Interesting and Valuable Study.
How to detect the forger as one of the cleverest of operating criminals has been solved by the "thumb-print" method of identification, now spreading throughout the banks, business houses and public offices of the world.
It is quite as interesting as the suggestion that through the same thumb-print method in commercial and banking houses the forger is likely to become a creature without occupation and chirographical means of support. R.W. McClaughry, chief of the bureau of identification in the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kan., is one of the most expert in the thumb-print method of identification in this country, having been schooled at Scotland Yards in London, where the method first was brought to its present state of perfection. Mr. McClaughry sees for the system not only a great aid in preventing the forgeries of commercial brigands but the easiest of all means for a person in a strange city to identify himself as the lawful possessor of check, or note, or bank draft which he may wish to turn into cash at a banker's window.
Thumb-print signatures will eventually be used in all banks as a means of identification. It will be a sure preventative of forgery. For instance: A maker of a check desiring to take a trip around the world shall draw a check for the needed sum and, in the presence of the cashier of his bank, place one thumb-print in ink somewhere in one spot on the check—perhaps over the amount of the check as written in figures. Thereupon the cashier of the bank will accept the check as certified by his institution. With this paper in his possession the drawer of the check may go from his home in New York to San Francisco, a stranger to every person in the city. But at the window of any bank in that city, presenting his certified check to a teller who has a reading glass at his hand, the stranger may satisfy the most careful of banks by a mere imprint of his thumb somewhere else upon the face of the check.
With the ink thumb-print of the cashier of a bank placed on a bank draft over his signature and over the written amount of the draft, chemical papers and the dangers of "raising" or counterfeiting the draft would have no further consideration. The thumb-print of the secretary of the United States treasury, reproduced on the face of greenback, silver certificate and bank note of any series would discourage counterfeiting as nothing else ever has done.
But this thumb-print possibility in commercial papers has its greatest future in the positive identification which either thumb or finger print carries with it. Criminologists all over the world have satisfied themselves of the absolute accuracy of the fingerprint identification.
At the present time traveling salesmen, who spend much money and who wish to carry as little as possible of cash with them, have an organized system by which their bankable paper may be cashed at hotels and business houses over the country. But with the thumb-print in use, as it might be, such an organization would be unnecessary.
As between bank and bank, this use of the fingerprint in bank papers of large face value is especially applicable. A draft for $100,000 or $1,000,000 may be worth more consideration of the banks concerned than the penmanship of signer and countersigner of the paper.
In the shipment of currency where there may be question of either honesty or correctness in the persons sealing the package, a thumb-print in wax will determine absolutely whether the wax has been unbroken in transit, as well as establishing the identity of the person putting on the first seal. As to the protective value of such a thumb-seal, a case has been cited in which train robbers, discovering a chance seal of the kind in wax of such a package, left that package untouched when the express safe had been blown open; it was too suggestive of danger to be risked.
In the ordinary usage of the thumb-print on bankable paper the city bank having its country correspondents everywhere often is called upon to cash a draft drawn by the country bank in favor of that bank's customer, who may be a stranger in the city. The city bank desires to accommodate the country correspondent as a first proposition. The unidentified bearer of the draft in the city may have no acquaintance able to identify him. If he presents the draft at the windows of the big bank, hoping to satisfy the institution, and is turned away, he feels hurt. By the thumb-print method he might have his money in a moment.
In the first place, even the signature of the cashier of the country bank will be enough to satisfy its correspondent in the city of the genuineness of the draft. Before the country purchaser of the draft has left the bank issuing the paper he will be required to make the ink thumb-print in a space for that purpose. Without this imprint the draft will have no value. If the system should be in use, the cashier signing the draft will not affix his signature to the paper until this imprint has been made in his presence.
Then, with his attested finger-print on the face of the draft, the stranger in the city may go to the city bank, appearing at the window of the newest teller, if need be. This teller will have at hand his inked pad, faced with a sheet of smooth tin. He never may have seen the customer before. He never may see him again. But under the magnifying influences of an ordinary reading glass he may know past the possibility of doubt that in the hands of the proper person named in the draft the imprint which is made before him has been made by the first purchaser of the draft.
In the more important and complicated transactions in bank paper one bank may forward from the bank itself the finger-print proofs of identity. The whole field of such necessities is open to adapted uses of the method. Notes given by one bank to another in high figures may be protected in every way by these imprints. Stock issues and institution bonds would be worthy of the thumb-print precautions, as would be every other form of paper which might tempt either the forger or the counterfeiter. In any case where the authenticity of the paper might be questioned, the finger-print would serve as absolute guarantee. In stenographic correspondence, where there might be inducements to write unauthorized letters on the part of some person with wrong intent, the imprint of finger or thumb would make the possibility of fraud too remote for fears. For, in addition to the security of signatures in real documents, the danger in attempting frauds of this kind is increased.
As to the physical necessaries in registering fingerprints, they are simple and inexpensive. A block of wood faced with smooth tin or zinc the size of an octavo volume, a small ink roller, and a tube of black ink are all that are required. For removing the ink on thumb or finger a towel and alcohol cleanser are sufficient. A tip impression or a "rolled" finger signature may be used. Only a few seconds are required for the operation.
In giving big checks merchants and bankers would be protected by the thumb-print system. A merchant could place the print of his right index finger to the left of his signature on a check. The bank would have a print, together with the merchant's signature on file. Only a few seconds would be necessary to convince the paying teller as to its genuineness. The merchant, also, if necessary, could place a light print of the index finger over the amount of the check where written in figures. Any attempt to erase the figures would destroy the finger-print. If the figures were raised, the one doing so would be unable to place a finger-print in the same space that would correspond with the one at the bottom of the check beside the signature, and the raising of the check would immediately be discovered in the bank where the check was presented.
The finger-prints could be used also in all manner of documents filed for record, such as deeds to lands, mortgages, leases, and the like. Railroads could use it to prevent men once employed and discharged for incompetency obtaining employment on another division, thus doing away with inspectors. Each new employee's finger-prints could be kept in a central office and classified. Any man attempting to obtain employment again with the same railway, who had once been discharged for cause, would immediately be detected, and a high standard of personnel thus obtained.
Congress recently passed a law whereby the Bureau of Immigration is permitted to tax each immigrant four dollars; this sum to be used in detecting foreign criminals who come to this country; also to aid in ascertaining whether foreigners who come here commit crimes and get into prisons. If such are found they are to be deported. By the finger-print system the prints of each foreigner could be taken at all ports of entry. These could be kept on file in Washington, and from time to time compared with those sent to the Bureau of Criminal Registry in the Department of Justice building. Any foreigner located in a prison could be ascertained, and upon the termination of his sentence taken to some port and placed on board ship.
It has been demonstrated by experts that the ridges of finger tips do not change from birth until death and decomposition. Scars made on the finger tips remain throughout life, and are valuable for identification purposes. Criminals try to evade identification by the system by burning the tips of their digits with acid; but these are classified under the head of disfigured fingers, and a lawbreaker cannot escape detection. Even the removal of two, three, or four fingers or an entire hand does not prevent a criminal being traced if his prints were taken before he lost the five digits. In the case of one hand being amputated, the missing fingers are classified as they appear on the other hand. If a search fails to locate the person, then the missing fingers are classified first as whorls and then as loops, search being made after each classification. In this manner the search may be a little more tedious than it would be if all the fingers were there, but in time he would be identified.
The Department of Justice thinks so well of the system that it has recently established in Washington a Bureau of Criminal Registry. There the finger-print sheets, and for the time being Bertillon cards, of all criminals who have been convicted of violating federal laws are to be kept. The prints and Bertillon measurements of new arrivals at government prisons and jails will also be sent there for classification, none of this work being done at prisons as heretofore. The men held in federal jails, charged with crimes, are also to have their finger-prints taken, and these sent to the central bureau. If the expert in charge of this bureau ascertains that a man indicted for crime has served a previous term in prison, this fact is to be communicated to the United States judge and district attorney, and if convicted the criminal is to be given the full limit of sentence.
Although the system of identification by fingerprints has been in use in Europe for a number of years, it is not a European invention. As a matter of fact, it is one of those cherished western institutions that the Chinese have calmly claimed for their own, and those who doubt this may be convinced by actual history showing it to have been employed in the police courts of British India for a generation or so back. Just who was responsible for its adoption there is not certain, but Sir John Herschel, at one time connected with the India civil service, is usually mentioned in this regard. The British police experienced a great deal of trouble in keeping track of even the most notorious native criminals and it was a great deal more difficult to arrest a first offender, for the reason that all the natives looked so much alike and were such apt liars.
Ordinary methods, even the Bertillon system, were fruitless and finally the finger-print scheme was tried. It worked like a charm. Where more arrests had been the exception, they now became the rule and the power of the law began to merit respect. In case after case the police were enabled to track the crime solely by the chance print of a man's finger or thumb on an odd piece of paper, on the dusty lintel of a doorway or a dirty window pane. Some of the stories told of their accomplishments in this line rival the most thrilling detective stories.
In one case, that of the murder of a manager of a tea garden on the Bhupal frontier, half a dozen or more persons were at first suspected, among them the real murderer, who was, however, later regarded as innocent because he was supposed to have been away from the district at the time the crime was committed. Investigations and questionings did no good, and at last the local inspector decided to take the thumb-prints of all concerned and refer them to the central office of the province. After the records had been searched a messenger came with orders to arrest the discharged servant of the manager who had been first suspected and then exonerated, for his finger-prints tallied exactly with those of a bad character just discharged from prison. He was later convicted of burglary by a court of appeal, to which the case was carried, the court refusing to condemn a man for murder on such slight basis when the actual crime had not been observed.
At the present time in India the papers taken in the civil-service examinations must be certified to by the thumb-print of the competitor and wills must likewise be sealed in the same way, and all checks and drafts must be certified by a thumb-print in addition to a signature.
In India, also deeds of transfer, and records of sale of land in connection with illiterate natives are executed by the impression of a thumb-mark instead of an "X, his mark"; and recently this very superior system of signature has been applied to all kinds of transactions with the natives, such as post-office savings banks, pension certificates, mortgages, etc.
The success the plan met with in India led to its trial and speedy adoption by the French and English police. In Paris it is used as an adjunct to the measurement system of M. Bertillon, but at Scotland Yard the Bertillon system has been entirely done away with and full reliance is had on the prints. M. Bertillon claims to have 500,000 prints in his collection, although this is said by the authorities to be an exaggeration, and Inspector McNaughton of the convict supervision office has at least 100,000 criminals' hands catalogued in his office.
Finger marks do not change in any way through life, and any injury only temporarily affects the pattern. The pattern becomes larger as the youth develops into a man, but the arrangement of the lines remains absolutely the same.
Thumb-marks may be generally classified as loops, arches and ovals, or whorls; the ovals irresistibly remind one of whirlpools as well as the volutions of shells, while the majority of loops or arches resemble in their convolutions the rapid movement of rushing water.
Thumb-print identifications have been extended to commercial uses by the postal savings bank on the Philippines at Manila. This bank has recently issued a series of stamp deposit cards, on which are spaces for stamps of different values to be affixed. When the depositor has stamps to the value of 1 peso (50 cents) on the card it is exchanged at the bank for a deposit book, showing the amount to his credit. Opposite the lines for the owner's signature and address is a square ruled off for the reception of his thumb-print, so that even if illiterate, depositors may readily be identified.
If any one wishes to get a thumb-print impression without the suspect's knowledge, simply hand him a piece of paper, asking him to identify it or examine it for one reason or another, afterwards sprinkling some special black powder over it which brings out the impressions as clear as life. Another sort of white powder is used for bringing out impressions on glassware.
Once the impression is secured, the fingers are classified according to a regular plan. The lines on them are divided into loops, whorls, arches, and composites, the latter class made up of a collection of the first three. Each pair of fingers as the index, little and ring fingers has a special valuation which is used to identify them and facilitate classification. One pair will be classified according to the number of little ridges between the delta, or point where all bifurcate, and the outer ring. If there are more than nine on one finger, it is classed as an over-nine.
It is seldom that two similar fingers are alike and the other finger usually would be an under-nine finger, say six. So there is the first pair classified thus, 9-6. The next two fingers may have rotary lines and are merely classified as R, the next two may not have many lines at all that will count, so are marked 0, while perhaps the last pair is unmatched, a point being allowed to one and nothing to the other.
Thumb or finger-prints are absolutely serviceable and certain in the detection of crime or in establishing a person's identity.
That this system may be most effectively employed as an adjunct to the rogue's gallery for fixing the identity of criminals there can be no doubt, since, from various experiments made it has been demonstrated that impressions made from the dermal furrows of the thumb or finger of no two persons can be sufficiently identical, when inspected under a microscope, to be mistaken one for the other; and that it is a powerful agency for the detection of criminals.
Very often, on the scene of a crime, finger marks are found on glossy surfaces (bottles, glasses, window panes, door plates, painted and varnished walls, etc.). By a comparison of such impressions, photographed by a special process, it is easy either to discover the maker of the finger marks observed at the scene of the crime, or to establish the innocence of a suspected person whose digital impressions have nothing in common with those marks.
Note and study fac-simile impressions of thumb-prints and finger-prints in Appendix at end of this book.
DETECTING FORGERY WITH THE MICROSCOPE
Determining Questionable Signatures By the Aid of a Microscope—A Magnifying Glass Not Powerful Enough—Character of Ink Easily Told—The Microscope and a Knowledge of Its Use—Experience and Education of an Examiner of Great Assistance—An Expert's Opinion—The Use of the Microscope Recommended—Illustrating a Method of Forgery—What a Microscopic Examination Reveals—How to Examine Forged Handwriting with a Microscope—Experts and a Jury—What the Best Authorities Recommend.
In all examinations of questioned signatures to determine the individual habit of the writer the use of the compound microscope is a necessity to obtain the best field for study and analysis for the reason that the most important details are often so minute that they cannot be seen with the naked eye in sufficient size to determine their individual character and accuracy. A magnifying glass has but a limited field in this class of work, for it is not easily held in position steadily for continued observation and study, besides it has not the requisite power for the work. The lower powers of the compound microscope are but available for the examination of signatures for the reason that when the higher powers are used but little of the signature is in the field of vision, although the power of the lens may be increased when some particular point or feature in the writing requires greater enlargement for more perfect definition. The higher powers of the microscope are sometimes used to ascertain the character of inks with which the writing is done, and also to determine the character of the paper on which a signature is written, which at times becomes important. For all practical uses of the microscope in the examination of signatures the range of object enlargement occurring between a three-inch and an inch objective will be found to answer the purpose, as the various powers of the lenses become important in making the analysis.
While it is a fact that the microscope and a knowledge of its uses is of the greatest importance in ascertaining the character of the signatures, when the question of their being forged or genuine is the object of the examination, it does not follow that because a person is learned in the use of the microscope in other fields of research that he is therefore qualified to become an expert in handwriting. A peculiar education made practically applicable by experience in this latter field of study is absolutely necessary to determine with accuracy what the microscope reveals, and its importance to give value to any conclusions reached by its use. The connection of effect with cause, and the determination of the latter as a matter of individualism cannot be accomplished merely from what is seen under the microscope. The examiner must by experience and education be fitted to ascertain from personal characteristics manifested in the writing of a signature necessitated their appearance as a matter of individuality.
From one of the best-known European experts on handwriting and who has figured conspicuously in important cases some interesting facts relative to this subject recently were learned. To the question, "What is the primary requisite for a conscientious opinion on the genuineness of any submitted handwriting?" this expert unhesitatingly replied, "An utter and entire absence of either feeling or prejudice. In other words, one should be perfectly dispassionate when engaged in such a work and use a first-class compound microscope."
To make his analysis the expert uses a microscope of great power, and by a strict and close attention to the subject-matter he can determine the exact means or methods employed in making the individual letters and the formation of the words and also the several inks that were used. Handwriting as defined by this expert is a mechanical operation pure and simple. Its general excellence or the reverse is largely dependent on the education which the hand has received. When a man sits down to write he mechanically reproduces on paper what is in his mind, and this may be said to be his natural handwriting. Should he stop to think even for a moment, not of what he is transferring to the paper but of the writing itself, he instantly ceases to write his natural hand, the transcription becoming only a copy or drawing from memory.