Forensic Document Examiners
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Questioned Signatures

SignatureSignatureSignatureSignature

A Questioned Signature may be compared and concluded as being by the same writer as a specimen of known signatures, only if the absence of fundamental differences and the compelling presence of numerous significant similarities of both common and unusual features are sufficient to exclude the likelihood of the similarities being due to coincidence. (A proviso is that the signature is of sufficient length and complexity as would be required to make the task of its forgery particularly difficult).

To conclude that a questioned signature is inconsistent with being by the writer of an adequate specimen of known signatures, requires compelling differences being observed between them, which are fundamental to the structure of the writing, and which are reasonably attributable to accident or disguise.

There are occasions when a competent document examiner is properly unable to express any conclusive opinion as to the writer of a questioned signature, or will express only a limited conclusion. The limitations could be due to problems with unavailability of the original questioned document, or either insufficient samples or unsuitable specimen signatures for comparison (unrepresentative sampling). Or it could involve the presence of inexplicable occasional or accidental occurrence/s in the questioned writing.

Common Types of Non-genuine Signatures include:

  • Simulated signature: the writer viewed a genuine signature as a model, as a basis to ‘draw’ a copy by hand.
  • Freehand forged signature: a forged signature is purported to represent the signature of a particular person, but it was written in the forger's normal hand-writing, with no apparent attempt to copy any likeness of that particular person’s signature.
  • Traced forgeries: are produced by a variety of means. A complete and exact replication of a particular genuine signature (of reasonable complexity), is compelling evidence of it being a ‘forgery’, because it is contrary to the principle of ‘natural variation’. However any apparent partial replication of one letter or a series of several letters within a signature compared to a potential model, should be assessed by the examiner, allowing for the writer’s ‘range of variation’ found to be exhibited in their signatures.
  • Disguised signature: where the writer introduced some disguise writing feature/s into a questioned signature, with intent to possibly later disclaim it.

Signatures are usually the most practiced, and therefore the most ‘automatic’ or habitual of one’s writing behaviours. Good signatures usually exhibit one’s best level of writing skills and fine motor control. If written with a combination of speed, fluency, and deft fluctuations of pen pressure in the habitual manner of that person, a well written signature is extremely difficult to successfully simulate.

Yet humans do not quite function with machine-like precision. So one’s signatures will display a personal “range of variation” within which, we would expect to find practically all of the components of any one of their genuine signatures.

Signatures may include flourishes and a degree of artistic decorative flair which is not exhibited in one’s other normal writings. Some writers may have one form of ‘quick’ signature for everyday work-place signing, and a more intricate and careful type of signature for formal documents and signatures involving money.

The document examiner endeavours to consider variable factors which might affect, or be alleged to have affected the execution of a disputed signature. These variables include:

To compare signatures: the document examiner will usually need the original of the questioned signature if at all possible, and require an adequate sample (specimen) of contemporaneous known signatures for comparison purposes. Details of the specimen signatures and questioned signature will be analysed, noted and compared, before arriving at a reasoned conclusion as to authenticity. The examiner then prepares a comprehensive report of findings.

In the laboratory the signatures would have been examined under suitable magnification, and enlarged images prepared. The stereo microscope, and specialised forensic document apparatus will be used as required. The whole questioned document will be scrupulously examined for evidence of forgery or authenticity.

A Signature Comparison Chart is usually prepared if Court proceedings eventuate, to illustrate the significant points of similarity or difference observed, in support of the conclusions in the expert’s findings. The Comparison Chart is a visual representation of particular observations made during the examination and comparison process.

If a document examiner’s opinion was given in court without the presentation of a visual representation, this could effectively limit the court’s opportunity to reasonably assess the veracity of the expert’s opinion or conclusion.

An expert who capably presents their detailed findings, and combines visual illustration with the factors and reasoning behind their opinion, assists the court to appreciate the scientific document evidence with their own eyes, in the process of coming to their own findings.

Submitting Questioned Signature Evidence

Questions concerning Signature evidence should be directed to 0409 241 852.

  • Signature evidence should be preserved in the condition in which it was found. It should not be highlighted in colour, folded, ironed-out flat, torn, marked, soiled, stamped, written on, or handled unnecessarily. Protect the evidence from inadvertent indented writing. Try to avoid marking the document. Mark only a copy of it, or label it if necessary for identification purposes.
  • Whenever possible, the client should endeavour to submit the originals of the handwriting evidence to the document examiner. A typical lack of fine detail in photocopies may make examinations more difficult.